Friday, April 22, 2005

On the Treatment of Benedict XVI in Media

Has anyone noticed the way international media has been treating Benedict XVI's ascendancy to the Papacy? Geez, its almost an unbridled muckraking session. Heck, in Britain, they've already smeared the Pope so bad one commentator said, "you'd think Hitler was the one elected Pope."

This is... appaling. I mean, I had my reservations about Cardinal Ratzinger - I am a Liberal Catholic, after all - but this is too much. Liberal as I am, I do understand why Benedict XVI took the actions and stands that he did. More than the office of Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals, Benedict XVI experienced some really bad things about the reform movement during his early years as a Catholic theologian.

I think he still retains much of the ideas that marked him as a reform-minded person all those years ago, but he appears to be a man that understands the need to keep certain core values of the Catholic Faith inviolable. Although the Catholic Faith is adaptable to the needs of the time, it has to retain certain core values and principles if it is to remain true to Christ's teachings.

Maybe that's why I haven't been so critical of Benedict XVI as I expected if Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. Yes, initially I though it was bad news to elect the leading conservative of the Catholic Church to its highest post. But amidst all the attacks on the man in media, what I think are the essential truths about Benedict XVI has greatly softened my views of him.

As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, he had to be "God's Rottweiler"; the job needed him to be so. But as Pope Benedict XVI, I don't think he will be as combative, as hardline. The job has certain small but important differences, foremost of which is that he is now not only the doctrinal head of the heirarchy of the Catholic Church... he is now its Supreme Pontiff, Vicar of Christ and temporal head of Catholic Christiantity. He is now being asked by God not to be His attack dog, but as father to all His people.

And, I think the things that make Pope Benedict XVI so unpalatable to many so-called liberals - and I'm speaking as one myself - is the very thing that will be his greatest achievement: his respect for tradition. Liberal and progressive as we may think we are, we should also accept the truth that the post-modern world has undermined many of the truths and principles that served as foundations for human society for so long. The analogy of people cast adrift amongst the waves of a raging stormy sea is apt. Pope Benedict XVI's insistence in time-honored values will hopefully balance the chaos of a rapidly-advancing world.

We'll see. His first real litmus test is coming soon, in Cologne. This is my personal opinion, but I think Pope Benedict XVI will surprise us all, pleasantly, when he meets the future of Catholic Christianity in his first World Youth Day as father to us all.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

First Thoughts on Benedict XVI

For those keeping track at CNN or BBC (or wherever), you probably know already that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals and Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, is the 265th Vicar of Christ and has taken the name Benedict the 16th.

When I first heard from my sister about it (I was out, sorry), my first reaction was, "oh no." As a Catholic more or less holding liberal views, and as a student of history and knowledgable about what the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith is - the modern incarnation of the Inquisition - I suppose my gut reaction was rather obvious. In fact, if you track the news articles even preceeding JP2's death, there has been tension between the "traditionalists" and "liberals" in the Church. Of course, many of the critics of the ascension of "the Pope's Rottweiler" to the Throne of Peter come from the liberal school of Catholic thought.

But seeing the man for the first time as he gave the "urbi et orbi", I felt different. I don't know; maybe it was seeing the foremost doctrinal enforcer of the Church smiling that did it. Maybe it was the testimonials after about a man who had a human, caring side (check out But I think we Catholic liberals will be (happily) proven wrong about Pope Benedict XVI.

As the new Pope himself put it, the main tension in Catholicism today is between "fundamentalism" and "relativism." His main concern as Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith was in defending the bedrock of beliefs that make up Roman Catholic Christianity, and his greatest fear was in the erosion of these beliefs by the "relativistic" attitude of a post-modern world, that there was nothing constant. In this, I don't think he was being a "doctrinal dictator": he was simply being a Cardinal of the Church, indeed THE Cardinal primarily entrusted with the defence of the Faith.

Let's wait and see. Despite his conservative outlook, he is a man said to be of excellent and formidable intellectual ability, and one who has shown a side that is human and caring. And, at the end of the day, regardless of what we think of him and his views, Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, is still Vicar of Christ, Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. And as Roman Catholics, he is our temporal head. And although we should not follow blindly, we should at least take heed of the words and respect the authority of he who sits on Peter's throne.

Who knows, maybe given the storms buffeting human society in a post-modern and post-9/11 world, what we need is a sure and steady hand to see us through (",)

Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Great Man Passes Away: Pope John Paul II, in memoriam

Before 4 this morning, Manila time, Pope John Paul II has... gone home to Christ.

I have never met him personally. In fact, I always maintained - not without a bit of regret - that I was one of the very few Ateneans who did not help in World Youth Day when it came to the Philippines.

But one need not have shook his hand to have felt the sheer... presence of the man. One need only look at the thousands, the millions, who turn out just to see him. The many voices shouting, "JP II, WE LOVE YOU!!!", and the sincerity in those voices to know that this was a man who touched the Human Soul in such an extraordinary way.

And to think that he was Pope of this day and age, a time when the advances in technology, science and culture has largely... trivialized faith. Or distorted it. Despite it all, John Paul II was respected, honored... and loved.

I think some of the most powerful images of the Holy Father were the ones where he comes into contact with the youth. The young of this age are well known for their conflict with the older generations, with authority, with orthodoxy, with conservative thought. "Rebellious" and "disrespectful" are common terms for the youth of today. Yet this man was loved by the young. I have heard somewhere that the adoration of the youth for Pope John Paul II could be likened to the treatment given to rock stars.

I have disagreed with some of his positions, particularly those dealing with gender. One of my theology professors once said that Vatican II made all three primary vocations co-equal, but it was JP2 who "restored" the Augustinian concept of the primacy of the priesthood.

Yet he is the Vicar of Christ. And not only that, but he was a man who deserved one's respect.

Perhaps because you knew that he was... genuine. When he showed how much he cared for the person in front of him, you knew he cared. It wasn't show. It was real. And maybe because I'm a young person myself, his special attention for the youth - this old, powerful man, the representation of ultimate authority and conservatism, yet placed the young first in his heart and understood what they went through, their pain and their confusion in a rapidly changing world - has always touched me deeply.

Part of me says that we need him more now, when so much hope and light have been taken from the world at the turn of this century. Everyday seems like we are coming closer to the Gibsonesque illustration of the future.

But even in his leaving, in his "coming home" to God, JP2 may have left us something precious, his last lesson to the world. Some people were saying that it was bad for them to show his slow progression to death. But he had a final lesson to teach. About life and the dignity of the Human Spirit, of the power of love and faith.

And even at his weakest, at death's door, he still fulfills his duty as God's Vicar, as the leader of His people. How many people have stood united in prayer, even as we stood on deathwatch? His death seems to have, even for a moment, eased tensions between the religions as Muslims, Jews, Anglicans and others prayed alongside us Catholics for this great man.

And maybe he has left me one final lesson, too. Maybe the one I have been looking for these past few months.

Thank you, John Paul II. I raise my Sword to you in salute, not just because you are the Vicar of my Lord, but because you are a person worthy of our respect and our love.