Sunday, January 08, 2006

Benedict "The Timid"?

I'll tell ya, people, I really feel for this Pope. If you look around sometimes, you'd think that he can't do anything right.

And it's just terribly sad. The man is coming up on his 79th birthday, he's got a heart condition, he didn't seek the job (unless you believe what's spewing from some anonymous Brazilian cardinal) and was longing to be in Bavaria by now with Bruder Georg, the neighbors' cats, and his self-confessed "old friends": his books.

He's not used to being the center of attention, this is all very new to him, and he's now left to carry an office the weight of which could crush even the strongest of men. There's no time off, no ability to do anything outside of the fishbowl of the papal apartment without the inquiring eyes of the world bearing down, and what little does seep out from behind those closed doors is seen as fair game for slicing-and-dicing, vile bile, and savaging the poor guy.

If you've got a heart to feel with, it's enough to break it.

All this is an advance disclaimer for a piece I came across that I'm not really keen to circulate in the English language. But it's there, it comes from a gentleman who has a pretty good track record on things Vatican (as does your humble narrator, of course), and being as it has appeared in an Italian outlet of record, it is newsworthy, whatever one may think of its contents.

Ignacio Ingrao, the Vaticanista for the Italian magazine Panorama, closed out the magazine's 2005 coverage with a piece on what he terms the "enigma of the timid Pope." (Sorry, Anglo-phones -- e' tutto nel Italiano.)

If Ingrao is to be believed -- and, again, his sources are quite good -- Benedict is letting everybody down when it comes to his personal contact. The baciamano (the "receiving line" of visitors to be introduced) at audiences has been significantly trimmed, so people are grousing about that; the nuncios get a brief pop-in after the general audience if they're lucky, so the diplomats are grousing about that; no one gets invited up for lunch, dinner or the morning Mass; the curial heads don't get to see the Pope and feel powerless to make decisions without those encounters, so the curia's growsing about that; the artists who played the Vatican's annual Christmas concert (Bishop Burke included) didn't get a meet-and-greet; on Benedict's one visit to a Roman parish (the Consolatrice before Christmas), he "rejected" the pastor's request to meet the schoolchildren.

Add to this, of course, the American combox fanatics who don't make Papa Bear's burden any easier by keeping the daily vapidness going that their dream candidate going into the Conclave hasn't yet excommunicated all but six of the most "orthodox, authentic, faithful, Magisterial" bishop-bashers, and it really isn't pretty. And it's just terribly, terribly sad.

It just -- it's so unfair. OK? All of it. It really is.

Unless someone steps into the man's shoes but for a day (try it, you'll probably go nuts) and comes out doing a better job trying to juggle the 19,000 aspects of life that form the warp and woof of being stuck with the world's toughest office, no one's in any position to criticize what he can and cannot do. Period. Just thank God that he's there and a lesser man isn't, and that the man we've got is doing the best he can -- and doing quite well at it, thank you very much.

Yes, it would be so wonderful if a Pope could be all things to all people. However, no Pope -- repeat, NO POPE -- can. Let's not forget that grace only builds on nature, cari fratelli e sorelle, and for all of the support of prayer and love which comes from the masses who flock to see him, the Pope is still but a man. He gets tired, he gets hungry, he gets sick, he gets... well... all of the things that you and I do. And while we may all have two, or three, or a hundred or more people who rely on us in a particular way, this guy literally has the weight of the world on his shoulders. For the love of God, cut the poor man some slack, please.

At base, it all seems to be an unfair stacking-up against the previous Pontiff. John Paul, of course, was the Action Pope -- running, jumping, climbing on stages, coming out of eskimo teepees, etc. But this Pope wasn't elected to be John Paul, he was elected to be himself, to bring his own gifts to the chair of Peter. And any successor who even tried to ape the latter John Paul probably would've ended up more like the first Pope of that name by now.

I'm only saying the truth.

And not for nothing did Benedict tell the people who worked on his apartment two days before Christmas that their dedication encouraged him further "to give on my own part, in this late hour of my life, the greatest amount I can possibly give."

The piece ends with the analysis of the revered Vaticanista Giancarlo Zizola, who crossed our radar a bit back with some incendiary charges against the former regime. Praising Benedict's "quasi-monastic modesty," Ingrao says that Zizola deems the new style more attractive to progressive Catholics than John Paul's "papalized triumphalism."

Quoting Vittorio Messori, with whom the Pope collaborated on the book which became The Ratzinger Report, Ingrao closes by saying that "'In the life of the Church, there's always a need to subtract rather than to add, so as to keep focus on the essentials': this is the Ratzinger philosophy.

"But it's no easy task."

Sure ain't.

You keep on keepin' on, Papa Bear. Don't let 'em get to ya.