If John-Paul II is called “John-Paul the Great,” then Benedict XVI could be remembered as the “Reluctant Pope.” Though he smiles a lot and gives wonderful theological and pastoral addresses, he has never really seemed to be comfortable in his role as Pontifex Maximus, iconic leader of more than one billion Catholics.
Where John-Paul II was a trained actor, a seasoned dramatist, a poet, a visionary and a brilliant, original philosopher, Benedict XVI is a theologian and a professor who loves the give and take of classical teaching.
Benedict XVI often seems unsure of himself within the culture of diplomats and politicians. I think he yearns to teach again and will find some way to do it. He seems at home with students and has a soft spot in his heart for seminary students.
Before he was pope, Joseph Ratzinger was cardinal prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly, the Holy Office, and before that the Roman Inquistion. That being said, let me tell you a little story that reveals something of the character of Joseph Ratzinger.
I have a friend who belonged to a United Church of Christ congregation and was their pastor. He, along with his wife and children converted to the Catholic Church during Ratzinger’s tenure as Cardinal Prefect of theCongregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
My friend studied privately with priests and his bishop, all the while hoping that someday he could again preach the Gospel, this time as a Roman Catholic priest. It would require a dispensation from priestly celibacy, an unusual request with little chance of success, especially, because Cardinal Ratzinger, “God’s Rothweiler” was guarding the priestly path.
I prayed with my friend that somehow the dispensation would be granted and a way would be opened for him to be ordained to the priesthood.
Then, one morning the phone rang. It was my friend ecstatic with the news that he had just received a letter of dispensation from the vow of celibacy and permission to be ordained a priest. “And, it’s signed by Cardinal Ratzinger,” he said.
My friend is now a pastor of a large Roman Catholic parish. His wife and children are accepted by his parishioners. (His son calls him “Father Squared.”) You can imagine the postive regard that this married priest has for the present vicar of Christ.
Benedict XVI was a good pope, even a great pope. Though he was reluctant to be in the world’s spotlight, he remains a dedicated and kind man. Perhaps, “Benedict, the Kind” might be the most fitting way to remember Joseph Ratzinger as he walks away from the papacy.