Some not as jubilant about Pope Benedict - Catholic Courier

Some not as jubilant about Pope Benedict

When the name Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger rang out from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square last April, nowhere was the jubilation stronger than among conservative to ultra-conservative Catholics.

In recent weeks this column has given voice to a growing suspicion that many of the same Catholics who were once so jubilant about Cardinal Ratzinger’s election are beginning to experience feelings of doubt and even some measure of anxiety. He has not taken in hand the papal hammer they had expected him to wield against everyone on their long “enemies” list.

New evidence in support of this suspicion has surfaced recently in the February issue of First Things, a conservative monthly edited by Father Richard John Neuhaus, one of the late pope’s strongest supporters and one who, to his credit, correctly predicted the election of Joseph Ratzinger when most other commentators, including the present writer, thought him too old and too polarizing a figure to be elected.

In his regular back-of-the-magazine feature, “The Public Square,” Father Neuhaus acknowledges that “(a)mong those who greatly admired Cardinal Ratzinger and were elated by his election as pope, there is a palpable uneasiness.”

“As of this writing,” Father Neuhaus continues, the pope “has not made what are perceived to be needed personnel changes at the top levels of the Curia.”

Father Neuhaus and others, including Father Joseph Fessio, one of Joseph Ratzinger’s former students, were not happy with the pope’s appointment of Archbishop William Levada to succeed himself as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Father Neuhaus’s criticism of Archbishop Levada is based on what he perceives as a certain softness in his approach to the issue of homosexuality while heading a diocese centered in a city “commonly called the gay capital of the world.”

To compound this was his subsequent appointment of Archbishop George Niederauer as Archbishop Levada’s successor in San Francisco. According to Father Neuhaus, Archbishop Niederauer, while bishop of Salt Lake City, “had a reputation of being … gay-friendly,” and was “somewhat ambivalent,” in Father Neuhaus’s opinion, regarding the recent Vatican instruction on gays in seminaries and the priesthood.

In light of these two appointments, Father Neuhaus suggests that “we” (meaning, one assumes, those who were initially “elated” by Cardinal Ratzinger’s election) are faced now “with what may be a defining test of the pontificate of Benedict XVI.”

“As all who know him can attest, he is in personal relations a gentle man and averse to unpleasantness.” He is a person, in other words, who “cannot relish the prospect of a direct confrontation with major institutions such as the Society of Jesus” — a group apparently high on that “enemies” list referred to above.

What many others would regard as virtues, Father Neuhaus seems to view as weaknesses: gentleness, aversion to unpleasantness, lack of a confrontational spirit. He apparently wants the pope to stiffen his backbone and to do something about “theologians and priests, backed by bishops and religious orders” who, he says, have “thrown down the gauntlet” of opposition to church teaching and authority with respect to human sexuality.

Benedict XVI, however, seems to be following a different path, one marked out before him by Benedict XV, who was a gentle peace-maker, not a confrontational divider.

Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

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