The Cardinal behind the Curtain_circa 1980

It is apparent that apologists for the Vatican are out looking for positive things to say about Pope Benedict XVI. It is not always easy to do. An interesting commentary in the New York Times would have us believe that the problems at the Vatican and the difference between this pope and his popular predecessor, John Paul II, are largely a matter of perception and public relations.

The contention is that Pope John Paul II was a good people person and got away with his lack of responsiveness concerning the kinds of priestly transgression now besieging Pope Benedict. All well and good — but to say that Benedict may eventually be regarded as the  “better pope” as Times columnist Ross Douthat would have it takes some maneuvering and an avoidance of history.

The revelations featured frequently in recent Times newspaper reporting– that Benedict as Archbishop Ratzinger back in Germany–was not at all rigorous in following up on charges of abuse in his home diocese. And he was similarly slow-moving in dealing with such issues when they passed his way when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, Guardian of the Faith and perhaps John Paul II’s most important subordinate.

Had Ratzinger not been chosen by the secretive college of Cardinals to succeed the people’s pope, perhaps indeed he would have been headed for retirement. But his single-minded attack on Liberation Theology in the 1980s and 1990s will long be remembered. He punished priests and bishops and cardinals, especially those in Latin America, for following their “option for the poor,” their declaration that oppressed peoples of the Third World deserved real-life response from concerned ministers. Instead, and certainly with the support of the anti-Communist Polish pope, Ratzinger punished and silenced and battled against progressive members of the Latin American church.

There are many people in the Roman Catholic Church who will never look upon this one-time enforcer of the faith as “the good pope.”

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