Eberhard von Gemmingen
Where does Pope Benedict direct the Church?
Committed Christians are wondering where Pope Benedict wants to direct the Catholic Church. The friendly gesture towards the Lefebvre-bishops, the extended authorization of the Trent Mass and the reformulation of the corresponding Good Friday intercession give to some people the impression that the Pope was very generous to the "right side" whereas he seemed to be deaf to the wishes of the other side. I think this impression is superficial.
Those who know the innumerable writings and speeches of Pope Benedict XVI and Professor Joseph Ratzinger can know what is really motivating him - below the current surface. He is struggling for a profile of the church helping mankind today not to submerge the sources on which a humane culture is worldwide living. That means above all that the question of God does not go away and that values for which mankind has been struggling and suffering for centuries do not fall into oblivion. He has once called this threat "dictatorship of relativism".
True, Pope Benedict is perhaps in danger to be a bit too pessimistic. But are there not really reasons to put critical questions particularly to the European culture? Religion is increasingly represented as a private matter, although neither Enlightenment nor most European constitutions are understandable without Christianity. Why is Pope Benedict obviously so taken with the relationship between state and faith in the United States? For the simple reason that here a status has been found from which Europe is far away. Religion is a matter of course; it must not be laughed at and is a great support for society. The European tendency to regard religion as causing conflicts and as a running out matter of an ancient civilization is old-fashioned.
Benedict XVI is deeply convinced that the church is to have a distinctive image, if it is to be helpful to mankind. He is here in a surprising way like Bishop Wolfgang Huber, the chairperson of the EKD Council. In the two encyclicals "Deus Caritas est" and "Spe salvi" the Pope has shown what is motivating him in this sense. For him the church is then politically, socially and historically relevant, when it proclaims Jesus Christ and without fear denounces man's errors as such. His problem is that his thinking is only determined by the matter and that he seemingly gives no consideration to the political consequences of his reflections. He mistakenly assumes that mankind is thinking just as factually as he and has no ulterior motives. He presumably thought that the small legal step of the withdrawal of the excommunication of the Lefebvre-Bishops was irrelevant for a broad public, just as the Tridentine Mass or the quote of the Byzantine emperor about Mohammed.
The Pope also knows that the church is often only understood as a moral authority forbidding quite a few things and saying 'no' to many things by which people are affected. That's why he in a family conference in Valencia in 2006 has said nothing about birth planning, divorce, premarital sex, etc. "We are above all to proclaim the gladdening message of love and marriage," he said to me in the television interview.
The Concern of the Pope
Let us be aware of it that in other parts of the world Pope Benedict is seen very differently, namely as a man who is fighting against poverty, exploitation and injustice and defending human dignity. After the Pope's visit in Cameroon and Angola just Africans have severely criticized the West and North, Africa could recognize and solve its problems and would not need to be constantly advised by its white brothers.
Let us not rob ourselves of the chance to hear from Pope Benedict what the world really needs from Christianity: the deep meaning of life, the message of brotherhood, the importance of faith and religion, the sense of other religions, the struggle for the unity of the churches.
If we committed Christians now suspect Pope Benedict in a corner in that he does not belong, we are contributing to it that he is in this corner. We have to give him the opportunity again to proclaim his innermost concerns. If our ears are open only for tones that appear to us shady, then we do not hear all the concerns of the man who by his name "Benedict" indicated what is central for him: that the church teaches society "Pray and Work", then the world will get in order.