Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A hard right from Ratzinger?

An Associated Press commentary is alleging that Pope B16 is starting the church on a new rightward course as the third year of his papacy opens up. Citing his strong opposition to any recognition for unmarried couples in Italy, his refusal to relax clerical celibacy, and the recent censure of liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, writer Victor Simpson argues that "Pope Benedict XVI is hardening into the kind of pontiff that liberals feared and conservatives hoped for."

Though I was not among those dancing in the streets when Ratzinger was made pope, I do have to admit to being somewhat more positive lately. It's true the Benedict hasn't budged on button issues like homosexuality and ordination, but that's hardly a surprise. No one expected him to. There is no doubt that he has disappointed many--those looking for a reform of ordination and gay and lesbian Catholics in particularly don't have much to celebrate--but he hasn't been as heavy-handed as he might have been. In fact, like John XXIII before him, I think his hands may be at least encumbered (if not tied) but the Curia that surrounds him, which is the true church body that needs reform--or outright elimination--with rare exception.

Take the notification on Jon Sobrino: Though it raises issues with Sobrino's understanding of the relationship between Jesus' divinity and humanity, it doesn't require his works to be withdrawn, doesn't explicitly discourage Catholics from reading his works, and doesn't forbid Sobrino from teaching. As a Jesuit, Sobrino could have been more strongly pressured, yet he refused to sign the notification, arguing, as many have, that the process is biased and unjust. Yet there has been no further action taken against him. Besides, there can be no doubt that the fundamental principles of liberation theology--the option for the poor, the demands of solidarity, and so forth--have been accepted by a large and growing segment of the people of God.

It may be true that many hoped for a more liberal pope, but that outcome was incredibly unlikely given that Pope John Paul II had chosen nearly all the electors--and he was no liberal. Those cardinals definitely went with a "stay the course" candidate, which many would argue is not what the church needs right now. At the same time, Benedict has already surprised many with his more pastoral papacy, and he may have something more up his cassock sleeve.

Time will tell.



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