SPIEGEL's Daily Take Pope Benedict XVI Channels John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI went on the air on Sunday for the first major television interview of his papacy. What did he say? That he sees and talks to his papal predecessor John Paul II. Plus, rumors of Nazi collaboration muddy the Polish presidential race. And the US arrests The Barber in Iraq.


Pope Benedict XVI says he's dedicated to preserving John Paul II's "rich treasure" of writing.
REUTERS

Pope Benedict XVI says he's dedicated to preserving John Paul II's "rich treasure" of writing.

In the first major interview  of his papacy, broadcast on Sunday by a Polish TV station, Pope Benedict XVI said the late Pope John Paul II not only occupied his thoughts but maintained a "constant dialogue" with him through his writings and his abiding presence. Benedict spoke in Italian, on Pope's Day, the anniversary of the late Pope John Paul II's election to the papacy in 1978. He suggested a visit to Poland in June was possible -- "If God wills it, and if my schedule allows for it" -- and laid out a few basic differences between John Paul's papacy and his own.

"My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure," he said. John Paul II left behind a mass of writing, including 14 encyclicals (communications issued by the pope to the Catholic leadership) and many Pastoral Letters. This writing keeps Pope Benedict in constant touch with his predecessor. "I hear him and I see him speaking, so I can keep up a continuous dialogue with him," he said. "… His nearness to me isn't limited to words and texts, because behind the texts I hear the Pope himself. A man who goes to the Lord doesn't disappear: I believe that someone who goes to the Lord comes even closer to us."

Pope Benedict recorded the interview on September 20, at Castel Gondolfo, his summer residence just outside Rome. The conversation was mainly about Pope John Paul II, whose legacy still seems to overshadow the new pope. The men were friends for most of the late pope's 28-year term. When John Paul died last April, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger rose from "chief doctrinal enforcer" of the Catholic church to become the first full German pope in almost 1,000 years, and took the name of Benedict XVI. He still claims to be humbled by John Paul, who not only helped bring down Communism but also "created a new sensitivity for moral values" through his speeches and public appearances. "Above all, the importance of the Bishop of Rome" -- the Pope -- "has increased immensely."

Nazi Shadows in Poland

The frontrunner in Poland's presidential election runoff, Donald Tusk, said

Polish presidential candidate Donald Tusk, left, from the Civic Platform Party and his opponent Lech Kaczynski of the PiS (Law and Justice).
REUTERS

Polish presidential candidate Donald Tusk, left, from the Civic Platform Party and his opponent Lech Kaczynski of the PiS (Law and Justice).

last Friday that he was shocked to learn that his grandfather had served briefly in the Nazi Wehrmacht during World War II. Tusk is in a tense runoff campaign with conservative Lech Kaczynski, and before Polish TV reports confirmed the story last Friday, he had denounced the rumors, which had been making headlines in Poland's numerous tabloids all last week, as a dirty political trick.

"Both my grandfathers spent World War II in (Nazi) concentration camps," Tusk said last week, before the TV reports. "They both paid one of the highest prices in World War II … Anyone who raises a hand against the dead, anyone who does such harm as my competitors have tried to do … is not worthy of honors and offices."

Lech Kaczynski -- twin brother of Jaroslaw Kaczynski who heads up the party that won parliamentary elections in late Septemeber  -- apologized after Tusk's denial, and fired his campaign manager for raising the rumor. But on Friday two TV stations reported that documents in German archives showed Tusk's grandfather, Jozef, had served in an auxiliary training battalion in the Wehrmacht for several months towards the end of the war, likely having been forcibly conscripted when his hometown was annexed into Hitler's Third Reich. He quickly deserted, however, before joining a Polish exile army that fought along side the Allies in late 1944.

Nazi collaboration is an emotional theme in Poland, where an estimated 6 million people died under Hitler's occupation. But the pro-business Tusk has maintained his lead over Kaczynski despite the story -- likely because the forcible conscription of Poles into the Wehrmacht was commonplace --and the now-sacked campaign manager's suggestion that Tusk's grandfather joined "voluntarily" hasn't convinced many voters.

"For me this is a sad situation," said Tusk, "because my lack of knowledge could make it look as though I was trying to hide something. If I knew about it, I wouldn't hide it."

Hairdresser to the Terror Czars?

While Iraqis voted on their new constitution on Saturday, U.S. forces announced they had caught the man responsible for disguising runaway insurgents and Islamic militants. Walid Muhammad Farhan Juwar al-Zubaydi, known as "The Barber," was arrested in Baghdad on Sept. 24.

"'The Barber's' duties included altering senior al-Qaida in Iraq members' appearances by dying hair color, altering hairstyles and changing facial hair in their efforts to evade capture," the US military declared in a statement. Officials denied, however, that The Barber supplied false noses, breast implants and liposuction for Saddam.

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