Helpless in the Vatican The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI
Part 3: 'Weary of Faith'
Christendom has "grown weary of faith (and) has abandoned the Lord," as Ratzinger concluded in his prayers for the Stations of the Cross at the Roman Coliseum in 2005. He spoke of the "banal existence of those who, no longer believing in anything, simply drift through life."
But the pope, this owl-eyed old man with a high voice, simply isn't as adorable as the Dalai Lama. He lacks the clear message of a Barack Obama. And no one would want to be stuck on a deserted island with one of his German propagandists, let alone be guided through the desert by them.
The days of Vatican chic are over, it seems.
Germany's flirtation with this man lasted all of two summers. For a time, it was hip to have read Ratzinger. Authors suddenly began making pilgrimages and the culture sections of magazines wondered if it was time for a return of the sacred. Berlin's upper middle class sent its children to the Canisius College Jesuit high school, convinced that they were guaranteeing their children's future.
Nevertheless, the disenchantment quickly set in. The longer Benedict was in office, the clearer it became that he was not interested in the opening up of the Church to the modern world that the public -- which had perhaps been fooling itself -- had expected of him.
His revival of the traditional Latin mass, the return of the idea of the controversial prayer for the Jews in the Good Friday prayers, the departure from critical biblical research in his book "Jesus of Nazareth" -- these were all relatively minor and inconspicuous steps in the direction of a more traditional Church. Observant church insiders, however, quickly recognized their significance as a warning sign.
In Germany, in particular, the mood began shifting beyond the Catholic Church when, in 2007, Benedict offended the country's 25 million Protestants with a verdict from the Vatican, stating that their denominations could "not be called churches in the real sense." His message of "dogma instead of dialogue" also offended the Catholic base, which, in many places, had long surpassed Church leaders in their ecumenical efforts. Even the then-leader of German Catholics, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, was clearly against the direction Benedict had taken, and tried to soften it somewhat with his own positions.
'He Disappointed the World'
Swiss theologian Hans Küng, Ratzinger's old friend from the days of the Second Vatican Council and later his adversary, soberly concluded that his audience with the pope at the beginning of Benedict's papacy did not, by a long way, signal a new dawn in the Church. "I had assumed that my invitation was the first in a series of bold acts of which the pope was capable. But he disappointed the world. Since then, he has not issued any further signals of renewal. On the contrary, he has, time and again, taken a step backward from the achievements of the Council."
In his position as pope, Ratzinger had the chance to strike out in a different direction than in his previous post as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he was the Church's supreme commissioner of faith for almost a quarter century. As Benedict, however, he quickly gambled away this opportunity and slipped back into his old role. Ratzinger has therefore become a prisoner of his biography -- to the detriment of the Catholic Church.
Ratzinger's 'Rational Adventure'
Joseph Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927 in the Bavarian village of Marktl am Inn, the son of a police officer. Although money was tight, Joseph and his older brother, Georg, attended high school.
When Joseph, their youngest son, was only in second grade, the parents bought him a missal, the Mass book priests use on the altar. For Ratzinger, religion became what he would later call a "rational adventure." His Catholicism was never merely incense and naïve faith.
His school registered him for the Hitler Youth, which was unavoidable, but he rarely attended. He was eventually drafted to serve as a child soldier in Munich. He spent the end of the war in a POW camp near the southern German city of Ulm.
Ratzinger was consecrated as a priest in 1951. He only worked in pastoral care for a short time, however, meaning he had little first-hand experience with the everyday worries of the faithful.