Catholics across the tired old left-right spectrum — a dichotomy much disdained by sophisticated observers, yet somehow apropos — were astounded at the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI last month. Yes, one or two optimists predicted this. But we who knew better humored them indulgently, and prepared ourselves for a centrist Italian who smiled a lot and called himself John Paul III.
As Benedict emerged from the balcony of St. Peter’s, stricken liberal clerics were actually seen by friends of this writer turning on their heels and shaking their heads in disbelief.
Meantime, jubilant conservative bigwigs like Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and George Weigel celebrated that same night at Armando’s Ristorante on the Via Plauto, just down the street from Ratzinger’s old Vatican apartment. The new Pope had dined there himself the week before. Armando and his wife jested with their famous customer that he would be elected. “If I am,” he jested back in fine German style, “I won’t ever be able to come here again.”
Okay, let’s be frank: he’s not Jackie Mason.
Neither is he Pius XIII. A tone has already been set by Benedict — plus a giant hint of the substance of his pontificate, too. And it varies from the expectations of both left and right, no matter what the clueless Big Media types tell you (here we exempt Delia Gallagher of CNN from any criticism).
Let’s step back a second. First: the elation and sheer relief of the Catholic right at the sight of Benedict belied a tad their praise of John Paul II and all he was said to have “done.” The plain truth is that we all worried that despite John Paul’s personal goodness and media magnetism, the Church had been rudderless and tilting to port. Cardinals complained privately about this drift all the time.
Until the moment Benedict XVI emerged, the shock most of us were prepared to handle was a Third World pontiff. Not a Bavarian who spent the months before the conclave throwing down the gauntlet with rebukes about clerical abuse of children and the moral relativism killing Western society. Not a Bavarian just after a Pole.
So when Ratzinger himself emerged, we sensed (did we not?) dramatic changes to come — and curiously welcome changes, to those conservative Catholics who seemed so immensely pleased with John Paul II. That meant at a minimum some new faces in the papal entourage, for sure.
We are 30 days into Pope Ratzinger’s reign, and he has not been indecisive. Quick appointments, bearing out the cliche that personnel is policy.
So who is new, under Benedict? No one. It is the same team we had under John Paul. Everyone was asked to stay, the rough equivalent of a new president asking pre-election cabinet officers to stay on.
OH, BUT THERE IS ONE lone fresh face. The appointment of an unremarkable American archbishop from the Catholic wasteland of California (a confrere of Roger Mahony no less) with light scholarly credentials to the most important post in Rome, Ratzinger’s old job as prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. San Francisco’s William Levada came from nowhere to get that post. Leftist Jesuit chaplains of the Democratic Party groaned, naturally. But who is Levada, and why should they be upset?
Press reports that he is an old friend of Benedict’s or that he is a clone of the new Pope are as usual imprecise. Friend? He did work for Ratzinger 24 years ago, as a secretary, for less than two years. Comrades in arms? Certainly Levada is a company man, yes. But he gave the game away at a press conference after his appointment when he said that he would be more like God’s “cocker-spaniel” than his “rottweiler,” the nickname the press gave Ratzinger in that post.
Indeed, it is impossible to imagine Ratzinger as archbishop of Munich compromising on the question of giving benefits to homosexual couples under diocesan employ. Levada as archbishop of San Francisco cut a deal with Willie Brown on that issue. He weakly cast his capitulation to the city as an endorsement not of homosexuality but of wider health-care coverage. Nor is it thinkable that Benedict would have allowed the rector of his seminary in Munich to write scandalously about homosexuality. Levada’s rector, whom he had inherited from his disastrous predecessor John Quinn, did. “Some homosexual persons,” wrote Gerald Coleman, “have shown that it is possible to enter into long-term, committed and loving relationships, named by certain segments of our society as domestic partnership…I see no moral reason why civil law could not in some fashion recognize these faithful and loving unions with clear and specified benefits.”
Benedict XVI has already mapped out what he predicted would be a short pontificate. He has done so with his many books (Ignatius Press has them all in English, and they’re not dull), with several new addresses, and, not least, with personnel choices like the old team and William Levada.
Joseph Ratzinger is a man of many parts, a powerful mind with an astonishing memory and an ability, say friends, to listen to a group for an hour, then synthesize their points in whatever language they happen to be speaking. He is probably the most-credentialed pope in 1,500 years, with a far better resume than his predecessor at the time of his election in 1978.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?