Four years ago today Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope, leader of the world's 1.13 billion Roman Catholics
John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet (1982-2003)
"The initial phase of Benedict’s pontificate appeared to be guided by his intention of uniting the Church around the figure of Jesus Christ. The love of God – that was to be the theme. A very important move was his inviting the Swiss critical theologian Hans Küng to Castel Gandolfo.
But this has since looked like an isolated gesture towards a former colleague. Since then, Benedict’s concern has been weighted towards the traditionalists in the church and not at all towards the progressives.
He is very different from his predecessor. John Paul II was a man of the market place, Benedict is a man of the library. He has done some great things. Deus Caritas Est, his encyclical on the love of God was very daring theologically, though abstract. His journey to the United States was a great success and the journey to Africa generated huge enthusiasm there, though sadly the reporting of it was overshadowed by the gaffe about condoms.
But he appears to be speaking from a place of isolation. He’s a brilliant intellectual, head and shoulders above most people around him. He knows it and they know it. So they don’t say anything much to him, and he does not appear to communicate much with them. Senior colleagues such as Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Schönborn have complained publicly that they were not consulted over the recent initiative towards the Lefebvrist traditionalists, including the Holocaust-denier Richard Williamson.
Benedict’s troubles point to the unfinished work of Vatican II. One great advance of that reforming Council was the doctrine of collegiality, which puts the Pope and bishops at the centre of church government and not the Pope and the Roman Curia. This has not been implemented at all. On the contrary, John Paul II hugely increased the centralised control. The record under Benedict shows that this just isn’t working.
In his extraordinary letter to the world’s bishops in March after the Williamson debacle, Benedict said that he had learned lessons. Will we see him change his governing style?"
Sir Stephen Wall, Principal Advisor to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, 2004 – 2005
"Pope Benedict was chosen out of caution. A Church that had been rocked by a scandal of devastating moral corruption opted for "a safe pair of hands". But Cardinal Ratzinger was an academic theologian and bureaucratic disciplinarian. He had little pastoral experience and he has proved accident-prone. His theological pronouncements have been inaccessible, his comments on other faiths provocative and his views on sexual morality a mixture of the extreme and bizarre. He has lost credibility and his papacy will not recover."
Luke Coppen, editor of The Catholic Herald
“It’s tempting to judge the first four years of Benedict XVI’s papacy entirely in terms of his tortured relationship with the Western media. But I suspect that in 100 years that will only be a historical footnote. He’s more likely to be remembered as the Pope who steered the Barque of Peter courageously out of the storms that followed the Second Vatican Council. His major decisions – the liberation of the traditional Mass, the lifting the SSPX excommunications – are fiercely misunderstood today but look ahead to an era in which Roman Catholics no longer spend their energies on internal battles but rather draw on the best of their tradition to present the Gospel convincingly to a sceptical world.”
William Oddie, author of John Paul the Great, the Maker of the Post Conciliar Church
"Everyone supposed that Pope Benedict would be very like the hardline Panzer Kardinal we were supposed to have at the CDF. He never was that but it was his job to say no so that John Paul II could say yes.
As soon as he became Pope his first encyclical was all about love, everyone was bowled over by it and supposed, because he was talking about the love of God, that he must have become liberal like them. But he was always the same Ratzinger, and was always going to emerge as the defender of Roman Catholic tradition that all Popes are supposed to be.
The secular press imagine on a story like condoms in Africa for example that that what the Pope says represents his personal views. But Popes don’t have personal views. So when the Pope said that condoms were not going to solve the AIDS crisis he was simply taking the Catholic view that the real root of the problem was promiscuity. (Some completely secular authorities have supported the Pope’s analysis)
The view of George Weigel (the official biographer of John Paul II) is that what Benedict needs is a Roman Revolution in the Curia. Incompetents who land him in it again and again surround Pope Benedict. It is really not the Pope’s job to scan the internet to google people like Bishop Williamson.
What he needs [in his press office] is a rapid reaction unit — like that Clinton had — to deal with misaphrehensions in the secular press. It should be ready to deal with inaccurate distorted reporting of off the cuff remarks made about by the Pope in the Church, and issue rebuttals on day one, not two or three weeks later.
However despite this, Pope Benedict XVI will go down as one of the great Popes in history. He’s safeguarded what he inherited from John Paul II, the recovery of a general understanding of the objective character of Roman Catholic truth. What is required now is for a whole generation of bishops to die and to be replaced by faithful and orthodox pastors.
He has established the principle of what he calls the hermeneutic of continuity and has shown that there is no serious conflict between the present and the tradition of the Church before Vatican II. That is his great achievement."