The Diocese of Rochester will lend its full support and cooperation to Pope Benedict XVI as he takes on his new role in the Chair of Peter, Bishop Matthew H. Clark announced April 19, speaking at a press conference less than three hours after the first signs of white smoke began wafting from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel.
The diocese will accept the new pope — the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — with affection, respect and open arms, Bishop Clark said, noting that he had met the former cardinal on a handful of occasions during ad limina visits to the Vatican. Before becoming pope, Cardinal Ratzinger had served as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an office of the Vatican responsible for observing and maintaining the integrity of Catholic doctrine.
Pope Benedict XVI is a very cordial, soft-spoken person who is known as a world-class theologian, Bishop Clark said.
“One of the strengths he’ll bring to his office is a rich knowledge of the church’s traditions from an academic point of view,” he said. Bishop Clark speculated that the cardinal-electors chose Cardinal Ratzinger because he had been close to John Paul II and would follow his basic direction amid what the cardinals recognized as a challenging period for the church. Like John Paul II, the new pope has also been very forceful in expressing his point of view, a trait that is very attractive to some people, he added.
Bishop Clark said he believes Pope Benedict XVI will stay on the conservative course his predecessor set, but cautioned that no one can know for sure exactly what he will do.
“You just don’t know. He has been what he has been, but it’s a strange thing. Sometimes an office and the grace of office changes people. There have been lots of surprises in the course of church history about what a newly seated pope has done in relation to the expectations of him,” the bishop said.
One of those surprises came in the form of Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 until 1963. Most people expected that he would follow in the footsteps of Pope Pius XII, who appointed him to the college of cardinals, but instead he convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, Bishop Clark said. Like every public figure, the new Pope Benedict XVI already has his critics, but people are usually willing to think of a new pope as starting with a clean slate, the bishop added.
“One of the gifts of the church is that it allows people to change. He need not necessarily be the same person tomorrow that he was yesterday,” Bishop Clark said.
Although it’s impossible to predict the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop Clark said there are a few things he would like to see the new pope do. “I would love him to be slow in doing things,” Bishop Clark said, noting that he doesn’t mean he’d like the pope to be inactive or idle. Rather, he said he would like to see the pope engage in more communication with diocesan churches. He would like to see the new pontiff approach church leaders and say, “Look, I’m new in this job. I’m familiar with the church and I’m familiar with Rome, but I don’t know your church as well as you do.”
Pope John Paul II was very engaged in the larger dialogue with other churches and religious traditions, and as such he probably entrusted many matters dealing with the internal life of the church to his aides, Bishop Clark said. Pope Benedict XVI might take a more personal, direct approach in these matters, he added.
In light of Pope John Paul II’s legacy and the role of media in modern culture, Pope Benedict XVI probably will face more public scrutiny than any other pope has faced at the beginning of his reign, the bishop said. People around the world will be carefully watching the pope to see what he has to say and how he conducts himself, Bishop Clark said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bishop Matthew H. Clark will preside at a community Mass for Pope Benedict XVI at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral at 9:30 a.m. April 24.Tags: Pope Benedict XVI