Catherine Pepinster: A German Pope chosen to save Europe

The fact that Ratzinger chose not to be John Paul III shows he will be keen to be a distinctive Pope

Share

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI - is a Pope for Europe. It cannot be by chance that he has taken the name of Benedict, patron saint of Europe, for his papal title.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI - is a Pope for Europe. It cannot be by chance that he has taken the name of Benedict, patron saint of Europe, for his papal title.

As prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a post he held under the late Pope John Paul II for 23 years, Joseph Ratzinger became increasingly concerned about the secularisation of Europe, the threats to its very Christian soul. This was a European, after all, who was both steeped in Bavarian piety, and as a child had grown up in Hitler's shadow.

Later, reflecting on the war and on Nazism, he had rejected the lesson drawn by other German theologians, who perceived that its central lesson was the dangers of blind obedience. Instead, he decided that only a faith based on a Church with sound doctrinal values, and a strong central authority could withstand a hostile culture.

It is of course his work in confronting hostile culture for which he has become best known. The enforcer, the panzercardinal, the rottweiler - these are the nicknames by which he has become known by the press in recent years. Joseph Ratzinger was the architect of many of John Paul II's most controversial issues. He has cracked down on liberation theology in Latin America; rejected any idea of gay marriage; countered feminists in the Church, put limits on dissent, and of course, in tandem with his rejection of secularisation, been hostile to pluralism.

Will this be a man in John Paul II's shadow, a man who was chosen to continue his work? The fact that Cardinal Ratzinger chose not to be John Paul III is probably indicative of the fact that Joseph Ratzinger will be keen to assert himself, to be a distinctive Pope.

It seems highly likely that the cardinals in the conclave, of which the majority were Europeans, will have wanted someone who would address their own great concern - that Europe, once the Catholic Church's heartland, is now its lost continent. While some observers suggested the time had come for a Pope from Catholicism's thriving African and Latin American nations, the cardinals and bishops of Europe have been convinced that Europe needed renewed guidance.

They have watched with alarm the falling Mass attendances, the empty seminaries, the laity's disinclination to accept the Church's teaching on contraception, and the failure of Catholic marriages, which have all served to bring about a crisis of confidence.

Not that such a crisis is new in Europe. The Church has faced the Reformation, the Enlightenment, liberalism and capitalism, Marxism and fascism. It has lost some of the battles, and won others. Joseph Ratzinger will have watched John Paul II face down Communism. But in postmodern Europe, the problems have been more insidious. Today not only Catholicism but Christianity has been perceived as little more than a lifestyle option.

The crisis over Christianity was made apparent by the dismay expressed by the Church at the proposal to exclude a reference to Christianity in the European Constitution. And Joseph Ratzinger's views about Europe were made apparent when, last year, he came out against the candidacy of Turkey to join the European Union.

But the fears for Christian Europe are far more profound than concerns over a constitution. There is a sense that the affluent, materialist continent has lost its soul.

Can Benedict XVI help it find it again? This is a Pope who is more of a theologian than a pastor. But the Pope is not just a man of theory. He has to be a shepherd of his flock, guiding one billion Catholics throughout the world. Perhaps this Benedict will take as his mentor the last Pope Benedict - Benedict XV - elected in 1914 as Joseph Ratzinger's own country went to war. Under Benedict XV the papacy had its own war aims - the defence of Austria-Hungary, the last great Catholic power, and the prevention of orthodox influences into Europe. Above all, Benedict XV sought peace, seeking to support peace initiatives from different sides, trying to dissuade the United States from entering the conflict.

Benedict XV found a way to work with people of many opinions. The Church, including those progressives who will have been viewed this election with some dismay will be looking to the new Pope to bring its many disparate strands together, to reveal a talent for understanding the position of those not just on his side, but those who at first glance perceive the Church in a very different way.

Those who know Joseph Ratzinger say he is a man of kindness, of sharp intelligence, who could sometimes be a moderating influence on John Paul II. After all, it was he who opposed John Paul II's desire to make teaching on birth control infallible.

And for those of us who want, not a Church of fashion, but one of compassion, a Church that can start to understand, for instance, why using birth control is surely not a sin, or the use of condoms to counter Aids in Africa should not be seen as an evil, we should take heart that Joseph Ratzinger has taken the name Benedict. For the first word in the Rule of St Benedict, father of Europe, is the most important. It is Listen. Listen, Benedict XVI, to the people of the Church, the people of Europe, and the people of the world.

The writer is editor of 'The Tablet', the Catholic weekly

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
A couple stand in front of a beautiful cloudy scene  

In sickness and in health: It’s been stormy but there are blessings in the clouds

Rebecca Armstrong
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor