Hopes for a moderately progressive pontiff who could loosen up the Chuch line on the supposed evils of condoms in the age of AIDS–or even an African or Latin American one who could help Catholicism rally against the aggressive inroads of Islam and Protestantism on those continents—have been dashed by the choice of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Ratzinger has earned a reputation as the Church’s guardian of orthodoxy. An online biography informs us he was born in Bavaria in 1927, served in Hitler’s Wehrmacht in World War II, re-entered the seminary after the war and was ordained in 1951. With his colleague Hans Kung he served as a theological advisor at Vatican II from 1962-5, but the two later went in opposite directions–Ratzinger rejecting Kung’s search for “global ethics” as a dangerous embrace of relativism, and especially his questioning of papal infallibility. In 1972, Ratzinger founded the influential theological journal Communio. In 1977 he was named archbishop of Munich and, later that year, a cardinal. In 1981, Pope John Paul II (having already stripped Kung of his right to teach theology) named Ratzinger prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith–formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition. In this capacity he helped put the breaks on–and reverse–the liberal trajectory since Vatican II, protecting the faithful from such contemporary heresies as birth control and ecumenism.
Some of Ratzinger’s zealots don’t seem to have got the word that his office is no longer called the Inquisition. Writes the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club website (without a trace of irony): “As Grand Inquisitor for Mother Rome, Ratzinger keeps himself busy in service to the Truth: correcting theological error, silencing dissenting theologians, and stomping down heresy wherever it may rear its ugly head — and, consequently, has received somewhat of a notorious reputation among the liberal media and ‘enlightened’ intellegensia of pseudo-Catholic universities.”
Ratzinger, who became vice-dean of the College of Cardinals in 1998 and dean in 2002, also seems to have been the official Vatican pointman on mystical loopiness. He oversaw the publishing of the Third Secret of Fatima in June 2000, and provided the official commentary, insisting that the 1917 vision to a group of peasant children in Portugal had accurately predicted the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981 by a Turk, Ali Agca, in St Peter’s Square. The revelation had long been kept secret to avoid sparking a public panic of imminent apocalypse. Ratzinger told the press, “No great mystery is revealed; nor is the future unveiled.” But he was clear that was only because the Third Secret had already come to pass–certainly not because the whole thing is simply a glorified hallucination. The first two Secrets–interpreted to predict the outbreak of World War II (as a punishment for mankind’s sins) and Soviet efforts against religion–had already been revealed to the public.
A 2001 Catholic World News account on the conservative Catholic Una Voce website also states that Ratzinger was assigned to head the Vatican’s dialogue with the Society of St. Pius X, a schizmatic reactionary faction that broke from Rome after Vatican II. The Society of St. Pius X is part of the Traditionalist schism whose fundamentalist vision animated Mel Gibson’s twisted The Passion of Christ (see WW4 REPORT review/expose).
An April 17 account in the London Times sheds more light on Ratzinger’s World War II experience. He was a member of the Hitler Youth–albeit only after membership became compulsory in 1941, and his biographer John Allen says his membership was “not an enthusiastic one.” In the Wehrmacht he served in an anti-aircraft unit gaurding a BMW war plant making aircraft engines–and employing slaves from the Dachau concentration camp. Ratzinger would later insist that he never fired a shot. He deserted in April 1944, and was briefly detained in a POW camp. He would later maintain that he opposed the Nazis but that resistance would have been futile.
The biography Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican’s Enforcer of the Faith, by John Allen of Britain’s liberal National Catholic Reporter, is overwhelmingly negative, portraying him as a rigid totalitarian who “sold his soul for power.” (See review, BeliefNet) The British press has had a field day with colorful epithets for Ratzinger, with the Independent dubbing him “God’s Rottweiler,” and the Mirror opting for “the Panzer Cardinal.”
In a March 22, 2002 National Catholic Reporter piece, John Allen wrongly predicted that Ratzinger’s conservative views would prevent him from becoming pope, but did state that “Ratzinger is a fan of the founder of Opus Dei, Spanish priest Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer”–without actually noting whether he is a member of the secretive organization.