Unsolicited Advice for Benedict XVI

by Kieran Healy on April 19, 2005

It’s a well-known fact that new Popes are always in need of advice. For instance, the late Pope John Paul II could have saved a terrific amount of theological confusion amongst under-twelves if, before his “visit to Ireland”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/04/03/when-the-pope-came-to-ireland/ in 1979, he’d been told to make sure everyone knew that the word “Suffer” in the phrase “Suffer little children to come unto me” actually means “Permit” or “Allow.”

What bit of advice should we give the new Pope, I wonder? On the Biblical side, I’m a fan of “Micah 6:8”:http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=micah%206:8;&version=31, myself. (“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”) But you may have a different ideas.



Katherine 04.20.05 at 1:38 am

have a beer with Vaclav Havel & realize that you are arguing against a strawman caricature of secular Europe.


Ray 04.20.05 at 5:29 am

Take a long walk…?


Barry 04.20.05 at 5:43 am

Realize that Nazism and Communism aren’t a product of ‘relativism’, but are rather professed faiths.


Scott Martens 04.20.05 at 6:14 am

Realise that the Church will only prosper where it delivers the goods, and work backwards from there to figure out why its failing in Latin America, already failed in Europe and growing in India and Africa.


strewelpeter 04.20.05 at 6:16 am

Hire Dan Dennett…?


y81 04.20.05 at 7:39 am

Read Grace Davie’s latest, called “Europe: The Exceptional Case.” Realize that rational choice theory is the best guide to religious policymaking. Work to separate church from state, and create a pluralistic, competitive religious market, in Europe. In such an environment, the church can flourish as it is doing in Africa.


nofundy 04.20.05 at 9:42 am

I’m with you.
That is my favorite scripture.
It seems to me Jesus based hit entire life upon the idea of that passage.


m falvey 04.20.05 at 9:52 am

Last night a Munich-bred friend and I were discussing Ratzinger here in New York. She explained to me that he had performed the role of Inquisitor, excommunicating as he went. And predicted that he was unlikely to leaven his social conservatism with the dollops of anti-poverty and anti-war sentiment meted out by John Paul II. Both atheist adults, we got stumped trying to decide if we were yet distant enough from our unfondly-remembered Catholic childhoods to wish the Church would skew more progressive. I half-wish the institution would wither and continue to hemorrhage active members.
And every time it makes a conservative choice, like Ratzinger’s appointment, I see less hope that the progressive forces within Catholicism will receive support to redefine its impact and message. So I guess I’d ask Ratzinger to look to Dorothy Day for advice. Or at least to stay out of the way of those Catholics who still do.


bi 04.20.05 at 10:47 am

Just for curiosity’s sake, where can I find a transcript of the Pope’s inauguration speech? With macrons, preferably. :)


Rachel B. 04.20.05 at 12:08 pm

I just did a bit of surfing, bi, to see whether (a) major news organizations with saturation coverage of the new guy could be bothered to include or link to the text of what he has so far actually said (ie the opening address+today’s homily), — answer, no — and (b) whether one could get the goods straight from the Vatican — answer, yes:


Your choice of languages, Latin included!


Chris Brooke 04.20.05 at 12:09 pm

I think the thing you want, Bi, is here (in Latin and Italian, from the excellent Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va) or here (in English, from the BBC).

Both links are to pdfs.


nick 04.20.05 at 12:15 pm

My advice: stand in the middle of St Peter’s Square when it’s empty. It’s always been a way of saying ‘the Catholic Church is very big, and you are very small’. Think of the Roman Curia in that context.


Troutsky 04.20.05 at 2:06 pm

I would advise him to remain nuetral on the issue of Michael Jacksons guilt.No sense starting off on the wrong foot. I also hope that someone tells him (and everyone else on the planet)that neither socialism nor it’s supreme state of development,communism,ever existed in the Soviet Union or in any of the other ,so called ,Communist countries.Not even our Cuban comrades can make that claim yet.


IanJ 04.20.05 at 3:08 pm

M Falvey,

odd then, that only two people were excommunicated while Ratzinger was doing the “enforcing”, one of them for being too right wing! (The lefty one has since been re-communicated, or whatever one calls it). But, hey, your friend’s story sounds good, so stick to it.

Ian J (Not Catholic, but has a protestant wife from Munich…)


m falvey 04.20.05 at 6:13 pm

Ian J, I will have to check out your claim that only two persons were excommunicated during Ratzinger’s tenure. Perhaps we should both stop relying on anecdotal evidence from Munich natives?
My comment seems to have raised your ire, but it’s unclear exactly why. Do you wish to disagree with me about the extent of Ratzinger’s conservatism? I would direct you then to his stated desires to remove women from any active positions in liturgical practice (including choirs), and his anti-ecumenical stance as evidenced in comments about the deficient nature of other faiths. His stance on Turkey’s bid to join the EU also marks him as an conservative outlier. These facts seem inarguable to me, as does the apprpriateness of describing the new Benedict as a conservative radical.


bi 04.21.05 at 1:00 am

Rachel, Chris: thanks!

Troutsky: libertarianism never really existed in a “pure” form either, but unfortunately I’d like the Pope to address the very real menace of libertarianism and laissez-faire capitalism.


Charlie B. 04.21.05 at 7:38 am

I think every single one of those comments would confirm Pope Benedict’s analysis of the threat to his Church posed by “social justice” (and its advocates) in their liberal secular guise. His explanation of this is stated with extraordinary clarity and simplicity in his homily on the 40th Anniversary of “Gaudium et Spes” (St Peter’s Basilica, March 18, 2005). I should add that I am not a Catholic or a Christian, but it makes a lot of sense to me — which the self-righteous left does not. (btw, I don’t see what it matters how many R. had had excommunicated – we’re not talking burning alive here. Are the atheists above declaring expertise in Catholic doctrine?)


Charlie B. 04.21.05 at 7:39 am


bi 04.21.05 at 1:09 pm

Charlie B.: Huh? As far as I can tell, your point from the homily is that people support actions they think are good, and criticize actions they think are bad. But aren’t you doing exactly that as well? And for that matter, wasn’t Cardinal Ratzinger?

I don’t know about expertise in Catholic doctrine, but it seems many people are claiming expertise in what God thinks. (Or what Nature thinks, for that matter.)


charlie b. 04.21.05 at 5:18 pm

Ratzinger in the homily says that for Catholics the judgement of the rightness or wrongness of actions is not the extent to which they conform to or promote liberal values, but the extent to which they are right by Christian doctrine.

Non-Christians do not understand this, and think, incorrectly, that when Christians and Christian leaders do “right” by liberal secular standards, it is because they accept and act by those liberal standards. As a result, when the same Christians act in a way that is rejected by secular liberals (e.g. on homosexuality or women), they accuse Christians of being anti-egalitarian, anti-rights, anti-freedom or hypocritical. In fact, they are acting in accordance with different ethical-political values, which are separate from and in no way dependent on liberal values. Therefore, for Ratzinger the accusations that flow from secular liberals are attacks not on shared values of rights and freedoms, but on Christianity and God, and should be treated by Catholics accordingly.

As far as atheists and liberals are concerned, Ratzinger’s position leaves one free to (a) accept and respect it as a expression of religious doctrine; (b) leave it alone completely and let Catholics get on with being Catholics; (c) declare Catholics the enemy and set about them accordingly.

I have to say I find all of those positions attractive for one reason or another at different times, and tend to move between them rather. The only position that seems senseless to me is trying to judge Ratzinger and Catholics by values they do not adhere to, and excorating them for not being “liberal” enough as Catholics (or, horror of all horrors, using ecclesiastical authority to expel someone from the Church by telling them what they believe is not compatible with established doctrine – ie, excommunication).

I think having such an intellectually clear Pope will be enormously interesting. It would be as if Irving Kristol Sr became President of the USA.


m falvey 04.21.05 at 8:38 pm

In response to Charlie B.: My comments were meant to express frustration that Church leaders are selective about which values, internal to Catholic doctrine, they choose to expend their energies and powers upholding. I agree with you that the Catholic value system is seperate from “liberal” values. However, when Catholic leaders address only one aspect of their values (the ones that I mention in my comments above) I am disappointed for two reasons. Not only that they put their weight behind positions I (as a self-willed exile) locate somewhere along a continuum from absurd to execrable; but that they neglect another foundational body of Catholic doctrine and tradition that has focussed on redress of economic injustice. There are certainly other “lapsed” and practicing Catholics, perhaps those active in ministries like the Catholic Worker, who are dedicating their lives’ work to these very Catholic goals. Why is “Rome’s” focus so unbalanced? This is why I wound up my admittedly rant-y initial comment by recommending that Ratzinger read some Dorothy Day.


charlie b. 04.22.05 at 1:51 pm

Absolutely. It’s a very different matter if you believe in all that, even a little bit. Or even used to. (btw, I see the press releases of Pope Benedict the Umteenth – as St Terry Wogan has dubbed him – are now in Latin, Italian translation following. Perhaps some time soon the translation will be dropped. he he.)


Uncle Kvetch 04.22.05 at 1:52 pm

As far as atheists and liberals are concerned, Ratzinger’s position leaves one free to (a) accept and respect it as a expression of religious doctrine; (b) leave it alone completely and let Catholics get on with being Catholics; (c) declare Catholics the enemy and set about them accordingly.

This is disingenuous, insofar as (a) and (b) don’t address the issue.

The new Pope (the one who, we’re being told ceaslessly, is committed to “reconciliation” and “dialogue”) took less than 24 hours to condemn the vote in the Spanish parliament to allow gay couples to marry and adopt children as “iniquitous.” They did not argue that Catholics shouldn’t marry people of the same sex, they argued that NO ONE should be allowed to marry someone of the same sex. Do you understand the distinction?

When the Vatican is prepared to adopt its own form of option b–i.e., render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and keep its nose the fuck out of the internal political affairs of sovereign, democratic nations–I will be perfectly happy to “let Catholics get on with being Catholics.” Until that time, this “live and let live” stuff is ridiculous.


charlie b. 04.23.05 at 7:46 am

(c) is generally my own preferred option, and always has been. I will leave Catholics alone, intellectually speaking, when the issues affect only Catholics.

Ratzinger says Catholics should never “live and let live” and should not accept that sovereign states have any status separate from Catholic doctrine. Good. Now we know where we stand. Catholic office-holders should be asked if they agree with their Pope. If they do, they should be driven from power. If they don’t, we can leave the Pope to deal with them.

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