Dear Fellow Parishioners,
The following is the second of what was originally intended to be a two-part series of reflections on Pope Benedict XVI. The first part dealt largely with his earlier life. Due to space limitations in this week’s bulletin, the series will need an extra week. This second part will deal largely with the run-up to the papacy. The third part will deal with the papacy and post-papacy.
The passing of Pope Benedict XVI is not merely the passing of a pope, but a whole generational shift. He was the fifth and final pope who attended Vatican II, and the only future pope to participate as a priest. He was a “peritus” (“expert”) to Cardinal Frings of Cologne. Ratzinger was widely regarded as a reformer, and a liberal, along with Hans Kung (d. 2021) and Edward Schillebeeckx (d. 2009). In 1968, he published “Introduction to Christianity,” still one of his most influential and widely read books. As late as 1976, Ratzinger suggested that the Augsburg Confession, the Lutheran confession of faith, could be recognized as a Catholic confession of faith as well. From thelate ‘60’s on, Fr. Ratzinger already had an international reputation, and was even invited by Fr. Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame to join their theology faculty. He declined on the grounds that his conversational English was not good enough.
One of his more distinctive qualities was his seeming indifference to rising in the hierarchical Church. In an atmosphere in which careerism (aka, “Scarlet Fever”) is not unheard of, his meteoric rise can be explained by his extraordinary intellectual gifts. In May 1976, he was named Monsignor. Ten months later, in March 1977, he was named Archbishop of Munich and Freising, originally established by St. Boniface in 739 A.D. as the founding see ofBavaria. Two months later, in June 1977, Ratzinger was appointed Cardinal. In other words, in 13 months, Ratzingerwent from simple diocesan priest to cardinal, certainly one of the fastest rises in Church hierarchy not determined primarily by politics or nepotism, but by merit. He was the last surviving Cardinal appointed by Pope Paul VI.
Late in 1981, Pope John Paul II named Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the office charged with the doctrinal discipline of the Church. It is widely considered second in influence only to the Pope himself. Despite Ratzinger’s repeated attempts to retire, he held the post for 24 years, until he was elected pope in 2005. (He was replaced by Cardinal William Levada, former Archbishop of San Francisco and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Santa Rosa.) During his 24 years as Prefect, he also published 27 new books in his own name, not including his editorship of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ratzinger’s intellectual interests and pursuits went far beyond theology. He was an accomplished classical pianist, and particularly devoted to the music of Mozart. While Pope, he recorded a CD of contemporary classical music. Even while Pope, he attended several concerts performed at the Vatican and elsewhere. His favorite piece was Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. He was also known to be fond of cats, and while Cardinal adopted several strays in his neighborhood. A book titled “Joseph and Chico: A Cat Recounts The Life Of Pope Benedict XVI” tells the story of the pope’s life from the cat’s perspective.
Next week: The Papacy and Retirement
Fr. Bill Donahue