When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to the papacy in April 2005, the popular forecast called for stormy weather ahead. This was, after all, the Vatican enforcer who had been leading a â€œsmack-down on heresy since 1981â€, in the words of T-shirts and coffee mugs marketed by a Ratzinger fan club. His rise elicited dread in some quarters and joy in others, but virtually everyone agreed big things were in the works.
During most of the past seven years, however, that anticipated upheaval has seemed a lot like the dog that didnâ€™t bark. Back in February 2006, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus famously voiced â€œpalpable uneaseâ€ among those most elated by Ratzingerâ€™s election, and that disappointment endured in a swath of Catholic opinion which had begun to despair that the pope would ever impose order.
Of late, however, many observers believe the â€œreal Ratzingerâ€ has finally come out to play. Consider the tumult of the past month:
- On April 18, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decreed a sweeping overhaul of the Leadership Conference for Women Religious, the main American umbrella group for the superiors of womenâ€™s orders, to correct what the congregation described as LCWRâ€™s â€œcorporate dissentâ€ on issues such as womenâ€™s ordination and homosexuality, and its contamination by â€œradical feminism.â€
- At least five Irish priests have faced Vatican-inspired discipline, with implementation left to their religious orders. Two Redemptorists have seen their writings for a church magazine either withdrawn or limited (one was also dispatched to a monastery for a six-week â€œreflectionâ€), a Passionist prominent in the English media is now subject to prior censorship, and both a Marist and a Capuchin have been told to stop writing and speaking on certain hot-button topics.
- On April 5, Benedict XVI included some blistering language in his Holy Thursday homily about a â€œcall to disobedienceâ€ issued by more than 300 priests and deacons in Austria who oppose celibacy and support womenâ€™s ordination. The pope called the effort â€œa desperate push to do something to change the church in accordance with (their) own preferences and ideas.â€
- On April 14, Benedict XVI ordered the German bishops to translate the traditional Latin phrase pro multis, from the words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper in reference to the shedding of his blood, as â€œfor manyâ€ rather than â€œfor allâ€. (The Vatican had previously done the same thing for English.) In the politics of liturgical translation, â€œfor allâ€ has been the preferred post-Vatican choice among progressives; conservatives typically prefer â€œfor many,â€ worrying that â€œfor allâ€ suggests a false promise of universal salvation.
- On April 25, Benedict created a commission of three veteran cardinals to investigate the recent Vatican leaks scandal, complementing two other internal probes. The suggestion was that the Vaticanâ€™s moles, assuming theyâ€™re identified, will face stern punishment. [More]
John L Allen Jr./NCR