The election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the See of Peter last Tuesday was received with mixed feelings. Critics said that he who was known as Panzer Cardinal will now be a Panzer Pope. But is such a comment fair? We think not.
The 'Panzer Cardinal' nickname was given by critics in the press. It is a general characteristic of the media that representations of individuals and groups are put forward in a stereotyped way.
Things are generally presented as black or white. This makes understanding easier but generally truth is the loser as reality is always more complex that the stereotypical representations in the media.
We refer to a comment by Vittorio Messori, the only person who co-authored a book both with John Paul II and another one with the present Pope, made in the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera.
"The myth - and, sadly, the ideological hatred of many, in a certain clerical world - has made of him a Panzer Cardinal, an inhuman fanatic of orthodoxy, a true heir of the great Inquisitors," Messori wrote.
"The real Ratzinger, not the myth, is among the most kindhearted, understanding, cordial, even timid men that I have known," the journalist added.
The cardinal - now Pope - is "an austere man", Messori said. But, he noted, the cardinal's discipline is "an austerity that he reserved for himself and did not expect from others". Joseph Ratzinger's profile is also that of a "man, among other things, of subtle humour, quick to smile", Messori wrote.
Even if Cardinal Ratzinger were a duro (hardliner) as chief of the Congregation of the Faith, it is wrong to project this image on his whole personality. The evidence of people who know him point to another direction.
This aspect is very valid for another more important reflection we would like to make. The role of Pope and the role of head of the Congregation of the Faith are radically different roles. It is common and natural for people in different roles to behave differently. So why judge Cardinal Ratzinger as Benedict XVI on the stereotyped image of the role of Cardinal Ratzinger as chief of the Congregation? Is it at least not fair to wait and see?
The first moments of Benedict XVI in the balcony of St Peter did not show a rigid personality. His way of greeting the crowds was warm, enthusiastic and in a certain sense unique.
More important was the speech he delivered to the Cardinals after presiding over the first Mass of his pontificate where he outlined his programme for the future. Let's look at some aspects of the message.
Benedict XVI pledged that he would lead the Church on the path of unity, dialogue and evangelisation.
"I turn to everyone with simplicity and affection, to assure them that the Church wants to continue to build an open and sincere dialogue with them, in the search of the true good of man and society," he said.
"I want to forcefully affirm the strong desire to continue in the task of implementing the Second Vatican Council," he said.
He said Vatican II's documents were especially relevant to the modern Church and today's globalised society and that the council's "authoritative" rereading of the Gospel would guide the Church in the third millennium.
Pope Benedict also stressed the need for close unity between the Pope and the world's bishops. This collegial communion, he said, favours "unity in the faith, on which depends in large measure the effectiveness of the church's evangelising efforts in the modern world". He asked bishops to accompany him "with prayers and with advice, so that I may truly be the 'servant of the servants of God'."
Pope Benedict pledged to make the search for Christian unity a special priority. He called ecumenism a "compelling duty" and said he would "spare no energy" in trying to bring Christian churches together. He said ecumenism must go beyond theological dialogue and probe the historical motives for the divisions among Christians.
Is this message an indication of rigidity and conservatism or one of openness and positive vision?
Like the Pope, in another part of his message, we say that after his election Catholics should look at the future without fearing it.
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