Friday, November 26, 2010

In defense of Benedict XVI

EWTN coverage of the visit in 2008 to the US by Pope Benedict XVI

I have a bone to pick with EWTN. In case you don't know, they are a Catholic TV station that is widely available on cable. They are unabashedly orthodox in their viewpoint, which is fine with me.

The problem that I have is that it's been more than five years since Benedict XVI became the Pope. And yet EWTN seems to have barely noticed. They still feature prominently Pope John Paul II. When the recent condom controversy emerged, EWTN commentators couldn't resist asking "what would John Paul II do?"

At some point this begins to undermine the current Pope. And what about the habit of EWTN hosts of referring to the former Pope as John Paul the Great? There seems to be more to this than just promoting the sainthood of John Paul II. It feels to me like there are some among the EWTN staff that are advocating a sort of cult of personality devoted to the former Pope.

This is not intended to in any way disparage Pope John Paul II. He was definitely a great Pope. But to then refer to him as John Paul the Great is no small step. Only three Popes in history have appended to their names "the Great": Pope St. Leo I (440–61), Pope St. Gregory I (590–604), and Pope St. Nicholas I (858–67). Does a modern Pope really fall into the same category as these fathers of Christianity? And to refer to John Paul as "the Great" seems to be saying something about Pope Benedict in comparison. I don't think it is an intentional slight, but it still leaves that lingering impression.

It's true that Benedict is not as charismatic as John Paul. He is not as youthful and energetic. But should that even matter when we are talking about the head of the Catholic Church? There's nothing wrong with a charismatic Pope and this quality garnered quite a bit of sympathy for John Paul from the secular press. In contrast the press seems to smell blood whenever Pope Benedict XVI makes a slightly controversial statement.

This is all the more reason that we should rally around the current Pontiff and support him in our prayers. Benedict has a wonderful grandfatherly quality about him. He emanates a kind of quiet holiness that is his unique charisma. He does not have a powerful speaking voice, but his words and writings are profound and full of spiritual wisdom.

What EWTN is doing is really not fair to either John Paul or Benedict. There is no reason that the network should continue to cling so tightly to the memory of John Paul II after so many years. For example, how about a show to discuss the encyclicals of Pope Benedict instead of the "Threshold of Hope" show which continues to highlight the encyclicals of John Paul?

I know that for me personally John Paul II had become the very face of the Church, and it was hard for me to accept a new Pope. But we must remember that the true face of the Church is, and will always be, Jesus Christ.


  1. Hello Michael!
    I agree with you, but I can also understand why people like so much John Paul II. Before I read this article, I was discussing with my mother after we saw Benedict XVI. I must say, and I might be wrong, that he has an aura of holiness that I didn't perceived when he was just nominated as a pope. Through his eyes I see a new person, more holy.

    I guess sometimes people just needs time, I think he is just winning popularity and people is changing their opinions, as I did.

    God bless you!

  2. Hi Ride,

    Yes, I have also noticed his "aura of holiness" recently. He has a very priestly character about him. He seems to be at once in touch with the earthly and the spiritual. He turns simple ritual acts like incensing the altar into a deep form of devotion. To me he is a living example of how deep respect for the teachings and traditions of the Church can transform the soul through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    It can't be easy for him to maintain the demands of the public schedule required of a Pope, and at the same time engage in private prayer and also devote himself to his theological writings. I know that he did not seek to become Pope and would have preferred to continue his study of theology.

    I'm sure he is also aware that he is constantly compared to his predecessor John Paul II. In this regard, he displays great confidence in his own spiritual gifts. He seems to be very deliberate in planning his Papacy. It is like he knows that he does not have the strength to scatter seed all over the world like John Paul II. So he is focusing all his spiritual strength in planting the seeds of a few mighty oaks that in time will grow and envelop the earth.

    His Papacy seems focused on Europe – not because he does not appreciate the great works of the faithful in other parts of the world, but because it would be a huge mistake to give up on the land in which the Christian faith first grew to full maturity. The people of Europe have historically shown that they have a deep longing for the message of Christianity. Eventually, they will tire of flirting with barbarism.

    Pope Benedict XVI seems to be saying, in his wise grandfatherly way, that we must be patient and keep reminding Europe of her Christian past. And then pray and wait. And always be mindful that God will sprout these seeds of faith when the right time comes. We are only his servants working in the fields. He is the giver of Life. His Plan remains a great mystery, even as it unfolds before our eyes. We must learn to respect his seasons.

    For everything there is a season...