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Friday, March 1, 2013

Ratzinger/Benedict and the Mystery of Reform

Those who are certain of the theological direction of the next pope would do well to remember that even a cursory look at the life of Ratzinger/Benedict (RB) shows the difficulty in predicting the future choices and attitudes of leaders of the Church. Surprise and irony abound. One need look no further than the fate of one of RB’s favorite theologians to see how unpredictable the waves of reform can be. Henri de Lubac, whose books Ratzinger wrote glowing reviews of and whose insights Benedict incorporated into an encyclical, was from 1950-1956 silenced by the Vatican. That’s right, a man who the seemingly strict orthodox RB adored was once on the outs of the leadership of the Catholic Church, before he was eventually named a Cardinal.

If you think that ironic, consider that Ratzinger, who would become famous globally as the leader of the Vatican’s doctrinal enforcement Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a famous speech given by Cardinal Frings during Vatican II deeply critical of that Office. In fact, at one time Ratzinger had been under investigation for heresy by the Office that he eventually led as the “Vatican’s Enforcer of the Faith”.

All of which is to say that Catholic people and institutions change and develop and reverse course in ways that are hard to predict. Reformers can become consolidators, and the men who they appoint can become reformers. It is the cycle of Church History that those consumed with the present can sometimes forget, thereby closing themselves off to the possibility of surprise and reform. Vatican reporter John Allen suggests that there are four camps among the Cardinals in Rome to elect the next pope, and that at least one of these camps contain leaders interested in elements of reform. Allen calls this camp the "pastoral camp" and describes Cardinal Schonborn as a possible choice that could emerge from this group:

Second, there's the "pastoral camp," meaning cardinals looking for a less ideologically defined pontiff, one with the capacity to heal internal rifts, such as the recent priests' rebellion in Austria, and to take a new look at thorny issues such as Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

One point of reference for this camp may be Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a Dominican and theological protégé of Benedict's who's kept lines of communication open with his dissident priests, and has hinted he'd be open to reconsidering mandatory celibacy.

Whenever you hear a cardinal over the coming days proclaim that the church needs a "pastoral" pope, as Italian Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo did Feb. 16, saying that's what the time demands rather than a Vatican bureaucrat, this is the sort of thing they often have in mind.

Schönborn is nobody's idea of a left-winger, but he's also no ideologue. 

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