Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Ratzinger Report – An introduction to Pope Benedict XVI

Reese may have been the first to fall, but under Benedict's Pontificate he will probably not be the last. While Benedict/Ratzinger is commonly referred to in the media as the Church's pre-eminent theologian, it doesn't mean that theological opposition doesn't exist within the Church. &ldquoCertainly from the more center left circles in the Church, there would be a very serious challenge on a number of theological matters,” Allen agrees, “ranging from questions on human sexuality, to questions of authority, to the precise binding character of the magisterial teaching – there’s all kinds of things. I suspect, at a level of contest, the first real battle we’ll see – and it’s a continuation of conflicts that have gone on before – is over the issue of religious pluralism. That is to say, to what extent are other religions vehicles of salvation, instruments of revelation? Trying to strike the right balance between, on the one hand the uniqueness of Christ and Christianity, and on the other hand a genuine respect for other religions. Clearly the Pope thinks that there are some Catholic theologians out there who are going to far. All of the high profile crack downs of recent years have, in one way or another, centred on this issue, and I suspect that that will continue to be the case.”

Benedict, Bush, and Neo-Liberalism

If indeed there is a cultural war afoot, with the role of religion in public life being one of the chief battles, then it is not unlikely that Benedict would see the administration of George W. Bush as a reasonable ally. &ldquoOn the whole,” -Allen speculates, “he is certainly someone who would say that a Bush administration is probably more friendly to the Catholic church than a Kerry administration would have been. The Bush people have a much greater degree of respect for the role of religion in public life than the Democrats, as they’re presently constituted do. So in that sense, I think his fundamental stance towards the Bush administration would probably be appreciation, but on issues of miltiarism and globalisation he’ll be a critic of important elements in US foreign policy, and I don’t have any reason to believe that he’ll tone that down, in order to make nice.”

Indeed, it should be noted that as Cardinal Ratzinger the new Pope came out strongly and unambiguously against the US invasion of Iraq. Asked at the time he stated that the” concept of a ‘preventive war’ does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church”[zenit news]. It has also been suggested that the new version of the Church's Catechism will include important revisions to the concept of the ‘Just War’, in order to avoid its future abuse in situations such as Iraq.

What remains to be seen is whether this defiantly political Papacy will venture into economic waters. &ldquoHe’s spoken publicly at least three times since becoming Pope, about the problems of Africa,” comments Allen, when I question him about Benedict's specific intentions in the field of social justice. &ldquoHe’s also decided to call a special synod of Bishops from Africa, to talk about the specific problems facing Africa. I think he’s going to try to hammer away at the conscience of the international community as much as possible, to try to galvanise serious engagement. He was very enthusiastic about the recent G8 decision, especially the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in trying to get something serious happening for development in Africa.

That’s in part, – he continues, – because of an abstract sense that Africa is the place where the needs are the greatest. It’s also driven personally, I think, by the fact that during the inter regnum, at the behind closed doors meetings that the Cardinals were having, several of the Cardinals from Africa made incredibly powerful cries from the heart, begging their fellow Cardinals to take seriously the suffering of Africa. Benedict, by all accounts, was very affected by that and is trying to carry it through with his Pontificate.”

While he may be pleased with the G8 debt cancellation, it's unlikely that he'll respond directly to Bob Geldof's call to attend the Live8 protests. ”This is not a Pope who has a great enthusiasm for pop music,” laughs Allen. &ldquoHe once described pop music as a vehicle of anti-religion. His tastes are much more Brahms and Mozart. I wouldn’t expect him to show up to an event organised by rock stars. I wouldn’t read into that, though, a lack of interest in the problems of the developing world and in particular Africa. He’s only been in office about 60 days now, and he’s probably spoken more consistently about Africa than anyone else on the global stage other than Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.”

The chief criticisms of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and organisations like the Catholic Church who have worked for Debt Cancellation, has been that, due to neo-liberal conditions imposed, many of the countries offered this 'charity' will have to implement economic ideas that have led to disaster in countries like Bolivia and Argentina. What likelihood is there that Benedict XVI, while galvanizing consciences, will issue direct criticisms of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the World Trade Organisation.

Cynics, such as myself, might suggest that all the evidence points to a continued Vatican concentration on &ldquoPelvic Politics”, rather than economic morality. Not entirely fair, according to Allen: &ldquoI don’t know that the Pope will actually step in and try to settle that debate in any level of detail, but I do think you’ll hear him talking about the need for an international authority to ensure that trade, economic agreements and structures work to the common good, and it’s entirely conceivable that Benedict will devote one of his encyclicals to this type of question. He’ll try to respect the limits of his competence. It’s not his job to outline a detailed economic blueprint, it’s his job to lay out principles that would inform such a blueprint, and then hold public authorities accountable for either meeting them or not.”

We remain skeptical. Italian voters can be given detailed instructions on how to vote on assisted procreation, but in economic matters like the privatisation of water, and education, there are broad principles to be followed, or not as the case may be.

Benedict's Church – A take it or leave it membership?

Allen's book while slim is not short on substance. One of the many interesting suggestions he proposes is that Benedict's priorities are not to halt falling vocations and falling mass attendances in Europe. &ldquoI don’t think he has any programme to downsize the Church. On the whole he’d be cheered if the number of priestly vocations, in particular in Europe, shot up. It’s also clear, though, that his conviction is that numbers and size and institutional holdings are not the most important measurements of success for the Church. What really counts is the quality of life it’s able to inspire in its fidelity to the Gospels. If that means, in the short term in the west, that the Church had to get smaller, that’s a price he would be willing to pay. I would add that by saying that I don’t mean that the Pope wants to unplug from the broader culture, or have the Church collapse in on itself. He wants a Church that is very engaged with the broader culture, but engaged in a way that’s true to itself.”

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