Pope Ratzinger brings with him three great disadvantages. First, his aggressive, cynical, character is well known before he starts. Second, unlike his predecessor, he comes from the Vatican bureaucracy not from the stage. Thirdly he does not appear to be dementing, yet.
For all three reasons he will find it difficult to build up that aura of other worldliness and what passes in the world for holiness, which Pope John Paul II was able to affect with such consummate skill.
What is so interesting is the difference between the way ‘Protestants’ and Roman Catholics see Ratzinger. The comments by Archbishops Williams, Eames, Griswold and their like are pure homage, while Roman Catholic leaders cannot conceal their dismay. The liberals did hope that they were going to get vicar’s wives, abortion and contraceptives and a bit less top down church government. They now console themselves, unashamedly, with the thought that he is old and will soon be dead. We devoutly hope that it will be from natural causes.
In his day Ratzinger was a thoroughly liberal RC theologian at Tuebingen. As he matured he swung to the opposite extreme and became an equally conservative custodian of the ‘faith’, if we can call it that, and rose to be, literally, Inquisitor General. What really brought him into the limelight was his insulting dismissal of Protestant churches, and the Church of England in particular, as mere ‘ecclesial bodies’ while at the same time opening the door to the possibility of salvation through Islam, which creed at the moment is much more to Rome’s liking than Protestant heretics.
Ratzinger embodies that age old predicament of worldly churches, which is to decide whether to be conservatives or liberals, the self righteous or libertines. Only Christ, dwelling by faith in the believer’s heart, can make a true Christian. A system of salvation by works can only produce Pharisees or publicans.
Ratzinger will try to placate the liberals in his church while holding the line for the conservatives. According to the predictions of Malachy, which we do not endorse, he will be the last Pope but one. Would it not be wonderful if the coming of Christ was so close?
Ratzinger need not worry. His system will not fall apart of itself. The Bible assures us that it will survive till the Lord’s return. “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” II Thess 2:8. Amen and Amen.