Pope Benedict XVI's 30-year campaign to reassert conservative Catholicism
Some believe Pope Benedict XVI is 'the greatest scholar to rule the church since [Pope] Innocent III," in the 13th century. Child-abuse scandals have marred his tenure.
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In dozens of interviews with church officials and theologians in Germany, the US, Spain, and France, many Catholics say the Vatican is not missing cues nor "tone deaf" in its handling of pedophilia. Rather, the abuse cases are playing out fitfully within the pope's vision of the church as ultimate arbiter of spiritual authority, Scripture, and holiness on earth. In this sense, the Vatican is not looking to adapt, modernize, or open itself to new interpretations. Recent Vatican statements against women's ordination, and reaffirming priestly celibacy, are small examples.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Pope Benedict XVI
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"The world is evil and the church is pure," says an Austrian church official. "This is serious for Benedict. He doesn't want the church to be a joke. He's suspicious of chaos and avoidance of discipline and order, and of human efforts to adopt popular culture and create church out of the world, instead of a church that transforms the world. This deeply upsets him. He sees all salvation taking place inside the Catholic Church. He believes that."
Yet ironically, child abuse has arguably brought greater disorder than the ferment of Vatican II in the late 1960s. This spring, the pope described pedophilia as "the petty gossip of dominant opinion" before shifting 180 degrees and asking contrition from St. Peter's Basilica on June 11: "We ... insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again."
From progressive to traditionalist
Ratzinger was not always seen as the conservative enforcer of Catholic doctrine. In 1965, the arrival of Ratzinger to the theology faculty at Tubingen brought a stir of anticipation. Ratzinger's bestselling "Introduction to Christianity" seemed a new impulse for democracy and freedom. The school had a joint Protestant-Catholic faculty. Change was in the air. Ratzinger was brought in by Hans Kung, a progressive young Swiss lion of Vatican II; for a time, it looked as if the two men were at the start of a beautiful friendship.
Nazism and the war had disturbed young German Catholics who were suspicious of absolute ideology. Vatican II appeared to "open" the church and allow dialogue and airing of views without fear of ecclesiastical reprisal. At Tubingen, Protestants partook of Catholic learning; Catholics learned Protestant concepts of scriptural interpretation and subjective ideas about spirituality from the teachings of Swiss theologian Karl Barth and German theologian Rudolph Bultmann.
Yet Ratzinger's first lecture to the joint faculty, an important tradition for new professors, was surprising. He spoke on "The significance of the church fathers for Christianity." Mr. Kung was "a little shocked," says Professor Häring. "Ratzinger was saying the basis of true theology was not the Bible, but the Bible as interpreted by five centuries of church fathers. He was basically telling the Protestant faculty, 'Get lost.' He was saying you must return to Greek theology ... to Hellenism."