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Pope Benedict XVI will face many of the same challenges as his friend and predecessor John Paul II, including sex abuse scandals, controversial policies on women and gays, and declining church membership.
A look at the challenges and issues that face the new pope. And for that, we're joined by The Very Reverend David O'Connell, president of Catholic University in Washington.
And Chester Gillis, a professor and chair of the Department of Theology at Georgetown University. He is author of the book "Roman Catholicism in America."
Professor Gillis, who among Catholics will be the most disappointed over this election of Ratzinger?
Well, I think there is a contingency of American Catholics particularly who were looking for moderation or change in the views of the Vatican on a number of issues, and I think they may be disappointed with the continuity of John Paul's policies and the sometimes viewed as rigidity in doctrine al orthodoxy for Benedict.
They will say, "I'm holding out longer," or they may be disaffected and simply drop out. Now in the view of Pope Benedict, he may think that's perfectly okay, a smaller more faithful Church is what he wants and that's the adequate and appropriate model.
Sometimes he sees modernity with its pluralism and secularity as heresy, and they don't see it as heresy. They're embedded in modernity and they see it as their daily life and as something that informs their consciences, and they follow that sometimes as well as church..
Father O'Connell, do you agree with Professor Gillis that the folks he described who are the ones who are not happy tonight?
VERY REV. DAVID O’CONNELL:
Well, I think there will be some people who will not be happy. Yet at the same time, I think there will be a number of people, especially a number of young people who are looking for the kind of moral anchor and theological anchor that Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI represents.
I think there will be some who will rejoice in his appointment, but that's not to take away from, as Dr. Gillis pointed out, the fact that a number of people will see this as if not a step backward, kind of a holding pattern.
And that would be unfortunate, because this is a great man with a great vision and a great intellect and a great character and quality of spirit, and I just hope that people give him the chance to prove himself.
But Father O'Connell, it is a holding action, would you not agree, on some of these basic policies and issues within the church?
Yeah, I don't know so much that, I hear them referred to as "policies." These are teachings, of the church, based upon the gospel, based upon truth, based upon tradition.
And I think that puts them in a different category than referring to them as policies. They have a fundamental intentionality behind them that is based on the conviction of truth, revealed truth and the truth that comes to us through and in the church.
And that's at Cardinal Ratzinger's core. He believes that, and he speaks that courageously. This is not an arbitrary man.
All right, let's go through with you, with both of you, some of the outstanding issues at least facing Catholicism here in the United States. First of all, women priests, is that likely to change, Professor Gillis?
No, it's very unlikely to change; I would say almost definitively it will not change.
Do you agree, Father O'Connell?
Yeah, I agree. You know, there's an old story that's told about a priest speaking to God and the priest says to God, "Do you think we'll have married clergy," and God says, "Not in your lifetime. Then he says, "Do you think we'll ever have women priests," and God says, "Not in my lifetime."
Okay. What about abortion and contraception, Professor Gillis, any change there?
I don't think there will be a change on either of those policies in this papacy. Clearly he's going to follow John Paul II in this regard. And if he finds that this does not go down well with the Catholic faithful, it doesn't matter.
As Father O'Connell said, he perceives this to be the revealed truth, the definitive truth of the Church, and that's what it will teach.
You agree with that, Father O'Connell, no, don't look for any changes in those areas either, correct?
No, I don't think there will be a change at all.
What about gay rights, Father O'Connell?
I don't think there will be a change in his position, because the issue there is human sexuality. And the teaching of the church on human sexuality is pretty clear. But I do think we have to remember that Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II, I have to get used to calling him Pope Benedict XVI —
We're all going to have to get used to that.
Yeah, it was through his efforts in the congregation doctrine of faith that the issue of gay rights, the issue of discrimination against gay people was made pretty clear that this is something that the church cannot tolerate. And so I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss his concern about gay people in the church, although I don't expect him to change any effort or any bit of the teaching on that matter.
What would you add to that, Professor?
Well, he's on record as saying it's a moral and psychological disorder in the human person for a gay person. So clearly I don't see him changing any of the rules. I think Father O'Connell is right, there's a sympathy and an understanding, an attempt to understand the gay community in a way, but as far as tolerance of gay practices, gay marriage, absolutely not in his papacy.
Pope John Paul II was opposed to capital punishment. Is there anything on the record about what Pope Benedict XVI might have a view on that?
Well, I think since he was such a close ally of John Paul II and his chief lieutenant for orthodoxy and for doctrinal matters, I'm sure there were discussions about this and agreement on this. So whether or not he had written on it, I imagine he will continue that policy of John Paul II.
You have to remember that for the past 24 years, this is the man who whispered in the ear of the pope; this is the man who had his attention; and any time that the pope made a pronouncement, I'm sure there was a great conversation that occurred prior to that pronouncement between Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II.
So if there were any disagreements, the pope always won, right?
Well, he is the chief shepherd.
So now the new pope will win, but what about on foreign policy matters, Father O'Connell, that Pope John Paul II was opposed and said very publicly he was opposed to the war in Iraq. What can we glean from the record about Pope Benedict XVI on that kind of issue?
Well, I don't think you'll find a pope certainly in modern days who is ever going speak a message that's in support of war. And I think again there will be some continuity on the part of his pope with his predecessor in that matter.
What do you think about that, Professor Gillis?
I agree as well. I think while he'll be a clarion moral voice within the Catholic community for certain principles, he'll also speak the world about other issues. If they have political implications, then he understands the political implications, and he'll try to get across the message of the church in a definitive way.
Would you, do you expect him to be as outspoken on some of these things, particularly on world affairs, as Pope John Paul II?
Oh, I do expect him to be. This is a man who is a towering intellect, as John Paul II was, who has written a great deal, he's a trained theologian, this is what he does. In fact, I think he might be better at that than he might be at the public persona.
Is that right?
Well, the kind of charisma, it would be hard to match the charisma of John Paul II. But as far as the detail work and the thought work and the positions of the church, he will very carefully articulate those and I think very forcefully.
Father O'Connell, where do you come down on the intellect, charisma equation?
I think this is a towering intellect; that this is a brilliant man. You know, he was a university professor; he devoted his early life to the academic world, and to intellectual achievement and he was recognized for that at a very young age.
He was chosen to be a consulter at the Second Vatican Council; I don't even think he was 35 years of age, and that's when his career in a sense got jump-started. But in terms of his own personality, I've met him several times, he is a very shy, humble man, he has a tendency to look down.
He's got a good sense of humor, self-deprecating. But when you look into his eyes you can see a profoundness there, you can see that there's a depth and there's intensity in this man, and there's a firmness, and I think he will speak his mind when it is called for and sometimes when it's not. He will be a challenge to contemporary culture.
More so than Pope John Paul II, Father?
I think in that respect we're going to see continuity there. He does not have kind of the public personality, the effusiveness of Pope John Paul II. But I think his message will be continue to be a strong one.
I don't think you'll see in this pope either a person who will be traveling a great deal, or certainly as much as Pope John Paul II, of course he's much older than Pope John Paul II was. He's also a man of great culture; he's a pianist and has a great love for Mozart and the arts. This is a very rich person, a very deep person.
You agree, Professor Gillis, that this will not be the traveling kind of pope that John Paul was?
It's likely; certainly first of all he's 20 years older than John Paul was when he was appointed. So his health is probably less robust than it would be for a younger man and takes a great deal of stamina to do all that John Paul II did. He has traveled somewhat extensively, but nothing like John Paul II has done. He's good with languages.
They say he speaks English and Italian, German . Does he speak them fluently?
Is that right, Father?
The one thing he lacks in a sense is pastoral experience. He was a brilliant theologian, he was early a bishop and then at the Vatican for a long time.
So in some ways he's been in a bureaucratic structure outside of the connection with ordinary people in many ways. And so that may be something that he'll have to reconnect with larger communities in that way and pastoral communities.
What do you think about that, Father?
Well, of course, he was an archbishop of a diocese for a few years before he was called to Rome. I think we have to be careful not to presume just because someone is an academic or because someone is in the hierarchical structure that they cease to be pastoral. Pastoral is caring for others; pastoral is being a shepherd, and I don't think that's absent in this man's life or experience.
Father, based on what you've heard, was the relationship between, the close relationship that developed between then Cardinal Ratzinger and then Pope John Paul II, was it based on an intellectual meeting of the minds, or was it a personal friendship or was it what can you add to that?
Well, I think they both met during the Second Vatican Council, both as young priests and as John Paul was a philosopher, Cardinal – Joseph Ratzinger as a theologian.
I think they developed some contact at this point; they both had similar backgrounds and experiences in terms of living under totalitarian regimes. So I think they were soul mates from an early age, and I think the opportunity as time went on as both became bishops and both became cardinals to cement that relationship and to further it, and I think that's where it drew its strength.
Do you agree?
I do agree, and I think all the cardinals knew, this is a known quantity, they got a known quantity in Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict, and they knew his relationship with the previous pontiff and the confidence that John Paul II had placed in him.
And the position as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith is a very powerful position in the Vatican, arguably the second to the pope, the secretary of state is powerful, but this one oversees theology in the church, and orthodoxy in the church.
It's a very important position; they knew he had the confidence of this previous pope. John Paul would not have kept him in as long. It's been rumored that he wanted to go back to Germany, and John Paul said to him, "No, you will stay here and work with me, we are both older but we are running the church together."
I want to ask finally each of you the same question, a purely Washington question. Beginning with you, Father, do you think when the conclave began it was already locked up for then Cardinal Ratzinger?
I know many people said that. I didn't believe that. In fact I've said a couple of times in the past few days that I thought his homily at the Mass was in a sense his farewell, his opportunity to say finally to a worldwide audience when he believed and hoped for. I don't think this is a man who wanted to be pope, but I think his humility and simplicity and love of God moved him to accept the election.
What would you add to that?
I was a bit surprised that it was so quick. I thought that he had a lot of support initially, but whether he would get two thirds initially was another question. Sometimes someone gets 50 percent, but then they decline in the election; it goes on for a little while. And I read the homily a little bit differently; I read it as not as a farewell, but as a platform –
"If you want me, this is what you get."
Yeah. "If you want me to be the pope then here's what I'm going to fight against, here's what I want to stand for."
And he raised issues of relativism particularly; he didn't raise issues of world poverty or globalization, for the pandemic of AIDS, or the crisis in some ways in the priesthood; those were not issues. These are the issues I am going to address, and I'm going to try to revive more of Christianity in Western Europe.
That's a perfect set of Washington answers, slightly different from both of you. Father, professor, thank you both.
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