On Tuesday, after four votes, the College of Cardinals elected Joseph Ratzinger pope. No sooner had the new Pope Benedict XVI been introduced than the usual suspects began to assail the choice. The reasons they are unhappy are the very same reasons faithful Christians ought to be thrilled.
Since 1981, Ratzinger has been the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Apart from the late John Paul II, he has more than anyone else shaped the Catholic Church’s response to the secular worldviews infecting the West.
In his homily prior to the start of the conclave that elected him pope, Ratzinger warned, “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” Christians are to illustrate the alternative.
The new pope’s refusal to bow before the idols of our age is enough to set some people’s teeth on edge. But he does not stop there: In his new book, Ratzinger calls on Europe to return to its Christian roots. He calls Europe’s “passionately demanded multiculturalism” a “renunciation” of and “fleeing” from “what is one’s own.”
By “one’s own” he means Christianity, and he writes that only a re-embrace of its Christian roots can assure Europe’s survival.
With these views, it is easy to see why his election “alarmed” the elites. In the lead paragraph of its story, the New York Times signaled its displeasure by using words like watchdog, uncompromising, and ultraconservative.
That was mild in comparison to the reaction of the British newspapers. Both prior to and after his election, their headlines made sure to point out that Ratzinger had been a member of Hitler Youth. They neglected to mention that such membership was compulsory and that Ratzinger, who came from a staunchly anti- Nazi family, deserted the Wermacht shortly after being drafted.
I was asked by an interviewer if the new pope would accommodate modern fashions. My answer was, “I hope not.” Fashions come and go; the Church speaks eternal truth.
Like his predecessor, this is a man who has gotten under the critics’ skin. As the Washington Post put it, in electing him pope, the Catholic Church signaled its “unwillingness” to “abandon Europe,” and the rest of the West, to secularism. In response, rather than wage a war of ideas, his opponents have opted for painting a caricature of a power-mad control freak.
Someone who knows better is Erica Walter who studied with Ratzinger. In the New Republic, she wrote that her biggest reason for favoring him was his “humility . . . his lack of desire for the job.” The “shy and soft-spoken” man she knew “pleaded to be allowed to resign from his office and return to teaching.” He only stayed because John Paul II wanted him to.
And so now, a man who did not want the job has it. We ought to be glad about that, and we should pray for the pope and the task before him. I speak as a confirmed, dyed-in-the-wool evangelical reformed Baptist, but I can say, “Amen,” to Ratzinger’s statement that “the obligation of the Christian . . . is to recover the capacity for nonconformism.” That is just what we need in our joint worldview battle against the “dictatorship of relativism.”