Pope Benedict XVI is the successor to Peter, a name that means rock. As in bedrock. Jesus’ prayer for Peter could just as easily be for Benedict: “I have prayed that your own faith may not fail,” he said, in order to “strengthen your brothers.”
As preparation for his visit to America, we present some “bedrock” principles of Pope Benedict XVI. Principles on which Pope Benedict will not budge.
A dominant strain of Catholic thought from the 1970s persists to this day: The notion that the Church is mother but not teacher. It persists despite Blessed John XXIII’s 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher), which said the Church “lays claim to the whole man, body and soul, intellect and will.”
Pope Benedict XVI spent decades heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and launched the conclave that elected him by opposing the “dictatorship of relativism.” When he comes to America, the dissent movement, which is already aging without much following, will again have to face the reality that their efforts to change the Church are increasingly irrelevant.
Pope Benedict’s reason for visiting the United States in the first place is the address he will give on April 18 to the United Nations.
Expect him to continue a theme that has developed since before he became Pope: War cannot solve problems.
The truth of that proposition isn’t clear to Americans, who experienced Word War II as victors who then got to go home. But in a German TV interview, Benedict explained what he means: “War is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars. Everyone needs peace.”
Benedict saw Nazis threaten to make his homeland anti-Christian, violent and opposed to the right to life. He saw war defeat the Nazis.
Then he saw Germany become largely anti-Christian, suffer from violent crimes and oppose the right to life anyway.
He also knows communists threatened to make Poland anti-Christian, violent and opposed to the right to life. But a peaceful Catholic movement defeated the communists there. Today, Poland is an exception to Europe’s secular rule. It is exporting its priests — and its Catholic population — all over Europe.
If Americans don’t see that lesson, it isn’t lost on the German successor to Pope John Paul II.
Another major shift is taking place in Catholic higher education. In 1967, the nation’s top Catholic university leaders signed the “Land o’ Lakes Statement” claiming: “The Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”
Pope Benedict, a former professor, recently experienced personally where this anti-hierarchical attitude leads: not to more academic freedom, but to less. Students at La Sapienza University in Rome proved too hostile to the faith to even allow the Pope himself to visit and speak.
Expect Pope Benedict XVI, in his address at The Catholic University of America to further promote the renewal of Catholic education that is blossoming in the United States with new schools faithful to the canon law mandatum and true academic freedom.
Too often, interreligious dialogue in America is marked by the extremes of severity or timidity. We either refuse to admit that the religions are very different at all or attempt to caricature other religions.
Pope Benedict has been ready to reach out to other religions but fearless in his pronouncements. He spoke to Jews at Auschwitz and at a synagogue in Cologne. He visited Istanbul and the Blue Mosque even after he had angered some Muslims at Regensberg. He baptized a Muslim at Easter vigil only a few days after Osama bin Laden’s threatening reference to him.
In the United States, he plans a meeting with leaders of other religions and a Passover visit to a synagogue. Americans can learn from him that it is possible to dialogue with other religions, and that you don’t have to pretend you have no differences — from false charity or fear — in order to do so.
The major unheralded story of the new millennium of the Church is the renewal of the liturgy. Pope Benedict has been bringing to fruition the liturgical renewal begun by Pope John Paul II.
“My pontificate begins in a particularly meaningful way, as the Church is living the special year dedicated to the Eucharist,” said the new Pope Benedict in 2005. “I ask everyone in the coming months … to express courageously and clearly faith in the real presence of the Lord, especially by the solemnity and the correctness of the celebrations” (emphasis added).
Pope Benedict has written major documents on the liturgy since then, and made headlines by announcing that he would be celebrating certain key Vatican Masses ad orientem (to the east), facing the tabernacle instead of the people.
This will be Pope Benedict’s first trip abroad with his new master of ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, who has helped him re-introduce traditional liturgical accoutrements. Msgr. Marini said, “I hope the liturgical celebrations presided over by the Holy Father may be an example and also provide an orientation for the church in the United States.”
But the real message will be the immovable stands Benedict takes. Like a rock.