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Pope Benedict XVI

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Created: April 24, 2005
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Index of Topics on Site Backup of Crossing Cardinal Nein
By Alessandra Stanley
SOURCE: New York Times
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April 24, 2005
Crossing Cardinal Nein
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY

POPE BENEDICT XVI takes over the throne of St. Peter with a remarkably long and telling record. The one consistent theme in the more than 100 cases that he adjudicated as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithful was his fierce, overarching defense of absolutism against relativism in doctrinal matters - of any kind.

He snuffed out Marxist-tinged liberation theology in Latin America and reproved the Rev. Charles E. Curran and other university theologians who sought to loosen church rules on contraception and homosexuality.

Cardinal Ratzinger also reined in religious dissidents on the right, most notably Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected even the most basic reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

And he arguably should have been a little tougher on Emmanuel Milingo, a Zambian archbishop who wed a 43-year-old Korean acupuncturist in a group ceremony performed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the eccentric leader of the Unification Church. (Rev. Milingo renounced his bride and the Unification Church after a visit with John Paul II and was welcomed back to the fold.)

Pope Benedict spent a quarter of a century fighting what he calls the "dictatorship of relativism," and weeding out challenges to strict Catholic teaching. It was his training as a theologian, it was his day job in the Roman curia, but it also reflected his sensibility as a German Catholic.

He and John Paul II had no dispute on doctrinal matters, but they came from different worlds and those distinctions were clearest at the end of John Paul's papacy. They are likely to be just as visible at the start of Benedict XVI's.

John Paul II was born in a Poland that was almost 100 percent Catholic - when he became a bishop the chief threat to his faith was Communism. The new pope was born into a conservative Catholic enclave in a country with deep Protestant roots. He came of age in Nazi Germany, but by the time he became a bishop, his preoccupation was the secularization of Europe as a whole, and particularly in Germany, a hotbed of Catholic dissent.

After Communism collapsed, the Slavic pope fixated on mending the 1,000-year rift with the Eastern Orthodox Church, sometimes pushing the Vatican's ecumenical envelope in an effort to mollify Eastern European patriarchs. He had some notable successes, including a joint service with Patriarch Teoctist of Romania in 1999, but he never realized his dream of visiting Moscow.

Cardinal Ratzinger never displayed the same degree of interest in reconciling East and West in what John Paul II loved to describe as the "two lungs of Christianity." Mostly he was busy stamping out wisps of religious pluralism, most famously in 2000, when he published "Dominus Iesus" ("The Lord Jesus") , which condemned "relativistic theories" of religious pluralism and described other faiths as "gravely deficient."

The document was mostly aimed at reining in straying Catholic theologians like the Rev. Jacques Dupuis, a Belgian theologian who after teaching in India argued that other religions could also lead to salvation, but it offended religious leaders of almost every stripe. Jewish religious leaders in Rome boycotted several interfaith meetings in protest. Even some cardinals publicly questioned its tone and timing.

And yet one of his less known decisions was a 1998 joint declaration by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation affirming that the two churches had found common ground on the issue of "justification," the means by which a human being is made worthy of salvation; that dispute drove Martin Luther to set off the Protestant Reformation more than 500 years ago.

At the time, many of Cardinal Ratzinger's critics suspected that he would sabotage the declaration. Instead, the Cardinal, a longtime admirer of Martin Luther, was instrumental in rescuing an agreement when it was on the verge of collapse, according to John L. Allen Jr., a journalist for The National Catholic Reporter who wrote a 2001 biography of Cardinal Ratzinger. The signing took place on Oct. 31, 1999, the anniversary of the day Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

As was his wont, the future Pope Benedict did not go soft on what he deemed critical issues of doctrine. Disagreement between the two churches on issues like papal infallibility and the ordination of women still remain. Accordingly, Cardinal Ratzinger blocked German Catholics from sharing communion with their Lutheran brethren at a 2003 joint gathering.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company



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