Professors give Benedict a 'C+++' performance grade
Published: Thursday, April 6, 2006
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
The recent one-year anniversary of Pope John II's passing also means that it has been one year since Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. What has happened in that one year was the topic of discussion yesterday in McGuinn Hall by a distinguished panel of Boston College faculty, which included theology professors James Weiss and Mary Ann Hinsdale, I.H.M., theology department chairperson Rev. Kenneth Himes, and Thomas Groome, director of religious education and pastoral ministry .
Moderated by Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at BC, the panel discussed Pope Benedict's achievements and shortcomings, as well as the themes of and the future of Benedict's papacy.
The main argument was that although there is great promise and Benedict is a well-qualified and intellectual theologian, very little has materialized since his election. His progression of the church over the past year has been unexpectedly sluggish. "For a cardinal who had such strict and concise views," said Groome, "I am surprised at the slow start."
This includes not "cracking down" on relativism and culture that has broken away from the historical teachings of the church, the status of women in the church, the shortage of priests, and regaining the church's reputation after the clergy sexual abuse scandals.
Weiss attributed part of this slow start to the fact that "Benedict's first year was already set by John Paul II," said Weiss. "This included the decree banning homosexuals from seminaries and priesthood, appointing new cardinals, and writing the encyclical [a papal letter addressing the church bishops]."
When comparing Benedict to John Paul, the main difference was a contrast in personalities.
"For Benedict, the papacy is more about a position than personality," said Weiss.
As Pope John Paul II put forth more of his own ideas and personality, Benedict has been a conservative, "by the books" pope.
"Benedict sticks more with tradition and understands that his personal views should not be included while representing the entire Catholic Church," said Groome. "He speaks as 'we' instead of 'I.'"
They also said since he understands the texts so well, Benedict has become disappointed with the intellectual depth of the bishops. "The previous popes were appointed more for being organizational and bureaucratic," said Weiss. "Benedict is looking for clergy rich in knowledge of theology."
Hinsdale opened her segment by giving the pope a "C+++" as an overall grade. She explained that "a C is gentlemanly. It means that not much significant has happened, but you showed up." Also, the three pluses stood for the three main topics she discussed: "culture, consultation, and continuity."
Her apprehension and concerns came from Benedict's dealings with culture. While all panel members called Benedict a great listener, citing that as the reason he was elected, Hinsdale brought up a concern about his ability. "My concern is if he will continue to listen to culture," said Hinsdale. "The church is in danger of becoming irrelevant to the youth."
One topic Benedict was able to listen on was that of women in the church. "Benedict used to view all feminism as radical feminism, but now he is adopting John Paul II's view of some feminism being complimentary to the church," said Hinsdale.
Groome predicted that there may be some changes on the horizon with women's roles in the church. "Because he is such a fine theologian, I predict that he will do something about women being ordained," said Groome.
This would prove to be a radical step for a very conservative pope.
Other topics brought up were that of Benedict's views on relativism and the separation of church and state.
"Benedict has said numerous times that the church is for charity and justice is for the state," said Himes. Benedict has tried to distance himself from politics and government, but Himes said that "indirectly, through its teachings, the church has a political impact." He disagreed with the pope, and said, "We shouldn't act as if the church doesn't affect it."
"True freedom means the ability to embrace the Truth," said Weiss of Pope Benedict, meaning "that there are some ideals and rules that are non-negotiable." Relativism is the belief that truths are specific to certain people and certain situations, and it is a popular way of thinking of those in some developed countries.
Himes believed that "relativism undercuts relative truths" and applauded Benedict's stance on the issue.
For the future, Benedict plans on dealing with the Catholic relationship with Arab countries. "Catholics are being accepted in the Western world, but Christians are being highly persecuted in the Eastern world," said Weiss.
"Benedict's dealing with the Middle East will contrast his predecessor. This involves a much more confrontational style when dealing with the Islamic world where John Paul II did not get too involved," said Weiss.
The pope plans on visiting predominantly Muslim Turkey in November, offering hope that his actions will be far more progressive during his second year.