Elie spent months in Rome last year and talked to a number of people who were close to both Karol Wotyla and Joseph Ratzinger. In the article he attempts to trace Cardinal Ratzingers rise to the papacy, a process which he sees as in train for years before the death of Pope John Paul II. In his view, Joseph Ratzinger knew well enough that he was the man to succeed to the throne of Peter. While he did not actively campaign for the job, he was aware of others who were promoting his cause. When he was elected he was well prepared, having been practically doing the job behind the scenes in the declining years of Papa Wojtylas life.
Interviewed in the same magazine about his experiences gathering information for the article Elie said:
The main point I've tried to make with the article is that the passing of the papacy from one man to another has taken place over the past five years, and that Ratzinger, stepping in as John Paul faltered, was fully aware that doing so might turn him into a pope in the making. John Paul's pontificate lasted twenty-six years. Ratzinger was in Rome for twenty-two of them. After the conclave, one of the cardinal electors and I were talking about how surprised everybody was that Ratzinger got so good at being pope so soon. And this cardinal said, "Well, what do they expect? Of course, he's ripe. He's overripe! He's seventy-eight years old! If he's not ready nowwhen?"
Here are some extracts from the article:
The new pope appeared on the loggia, freshly vested in red, white, and gold, a white skullcap on his head. Cardinal Joseph Ratzingerpriest, theologian, author, doctrinal supervisor, Vatican insiderwas now Pope Benedict XVI, the vicar of Christ, the servant of the servants of God. He beamed and raised his arms to the sky. He looked happy, proud, nervous, awestruckbut in no way surprised.
The events of the twelve months from the onset of John Paul's last illness up to the presenta year of two popescomplete a process that has been under way since the turn of the millennium. John Paul's poor health prompted Ratzinger, always confident of the soundness of his own approach, to speak and act more boldly than ever. John Paul's physical weakness made Ratzinger (seven years younger) seem spry and vigorous beneath his head of white hair; John Paul's thick, clotted speech made Ratzinger's gentle enunciations seem the voice of clarity. John Paul's struggle to carry on despite his ailments precluded the notion that Ratzinger's own limitationsadvanced age, a divisive public image, an attraction to thoughts more than to thinkerswere drawbacks in any important sense.
Did Ratzinger want to be pope? Certainlyprovided that this was what God and the other cardinals wanted of him. More and more, it seemed, he was wanted. Beginning in 2000 circumstances at the Vatican seemed to call Ratzinger to the papacyto "convert" him or turn him around to the office, as he would put it. He saw the papacy diminished by the pope's illness, and the Church weakened by scandals. He was clearly "head and shoulders above the rest of the cardinals," one of his aides told me, "and he knew it"; he at once recognized his mastery of the mechanisms of Vatican power and trusted himself to use them properly. He did notdared notwait for John Paul to die; the Church was going off course again. So he prayed for guidance and then stepped in.
Four men who had worked with Ratzinger for many years opened up to Elie on condition of anonymity. He dubbed them Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
I was a little awed to be breaking bread with people who knew the pope who had taken his classes, drafted his documents, carried out his directives, shaken his hand without pomp and circumstance. But such workaday relationships are where his true life is lived. Whereas John Paul seemed most at home when celebrating mass for 100,000 strangers, Benedict is most himself when among fellow churchmen in Rome. Whereas John Paul made all the world an altar, Benedict's sphere of action is the compound of churches and offices surrounding St. Peter's. As a symbol of the papacy John Paul's popemobile has been replaced by Benedict's personal theological library of several thousand books, which were photographed after his election so that they could be reshelved in the same order in the papal apartments.
Elie points out some of the differences which existed between the two men both intellectual titans burning with passion for the church.
Over time the differences between the two men became clearer. They could be seen as complementary types. Wojtyla was an actor, Ratzinger a writer. Wojtyla seemed born to wear white, whereas Ratzinger seemed most natural in a black cassock and beret. John Paul traveled the world on a never-ending pilgrimage; Ratzinger made a ritual of the daily walk from his office to his apartment in a drab modern building in the cramped and tourist-ridden neighborhood just outside the Vatican walls, literally in the shadow of the papal apartments. He would stop en route to buy light bulbs, feed stray cats, pose for a snapshot with some tourists, or browse in the window of the Ancora bookshop, where new works of theology were displayed alongside treacly portraits of John Paul. Once home he would drink a glass of Orangina and settle at the piano, playing Mozart from six-thirty to seven each evening, and then read or write into the night.
If John Paul's outlook was defined by his nationality, Ratzinger's is best understood through his vocation. He is a theologian the way John Paul was a Pole: wholly, intensely, at once proud and embattled. Whereas John Paul, formed by Polish nationalism, sought truth in historythe dying arc of communism, the end of the second millenniumRatzinger sees the challenges of the Church as finally theological, not historical. In his view, human society is always changing; civilization is entropically prone to decline. It is the task of theologians to make the substance of the Catholic faith clear amid this continual change, not to make it relevant to their place and time. This explains his distaste for such innovators as the liberation theologians of Latin America.
On the release of the document Dominus Iesus
It (the document) concerned the Catholic Church's relations with other religions, and in approach it was graceless. Contrary to Vatican procedure, the CDF pushed it through without giving key curial officials the chance to sign off on it, and Ratzinger himself signed the document on August 6, as Rome was emptying for the summer holidays. In a sharp departure from Vatican II, it treated other Christian denominations as essentially equivalent to non-Christian religionsimplying that Christian faith that is not Catholic is not Christian faith at all. And it used wounding words, declaring that the other churches and other religionsthe religions whose leaders John Paul was going out of his way to greet during the Jubileewere "in a gravely deficient situation."
If Ratzinger's intention with Dominus Iesus was to wave a red flag, he was successful. From its title onward it served to cast aspersions on the Jubilee road show, as some in the Vatican called it, and to make Ratzinger more prominent than ever as John Paul's alter ego, a cleric who was more Catholic than the pope.
Elie sees the succession of Ratzinger as Dean of the College of Cardinals in 2002 as another key event on his road to the papacy. He quotes John Allen.
"With Gantin stepping down, there are only two logical choices for the new dean"Ratzinger and Sodano, who is seven months younger. "But too many people at that level dislike Sodano. The feeling is that he is what the Italians call gonfiatohe has an inflated sense of himself. So it would have to be Ratzinger. Certainly Ratzinger would have been aware of thisand with a conclave in the offing, he would have seen the implications of getting elected dean sooner rather than later."
As the Popes ability to govern and engage diminished Ratzingers importance grew.
As John Paul's meetings grew more ritualized, Ratzinger made his own meetings with the bishops more substantive. Men long in service to the Church had been meeting with him during their ad liminas since the early 1980s. A number of them told me that the Ratzinger they met on their most recent visits seemed more alive and engaged than before. "In December , when I made my ad limina visit, I became even more impressed by his warmth and his listening presence," Harry J. Flynn, the archbishop of MinneapolisSt. Paul, told me.
"Cardinal Ratzinger really stood out from the times I'd seen him before, though I can't say that I understand why. He greeted us warmly and individually, looking right into our eyes. Then he sat us down and asked, 'Now, how can we help you?' He was curious about the challenges facing the Church in the United States and in our individual dioceses. He had a beautiful peace about him, and gave the sense that here is a person who truly values my opinion." As they left the palazzo, Flynn turned to the other bishops and, as he remembers it, "expressed the hope that Ratzinger would be elected pope when the time came."
By this time, Elie says, Ratzingers candidacy was by then well advanced, and several people of influence were actively trying to bring his election about.
Three cardinals took the lead. A protg of Ratzinger's, Christoph Schnborn, the archbishop of Vienna, . Alfonso Lpez Trujillo, a Colombian who is the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, worked on the Spanish-speaking cardinals; .and George Pell, the archbishop of Sydney.
He gives a touching glimpse into the life John Paul in private in his last year
The pope who had made 104 foreign trips was now largely restricted to the papal apartments: the corner bedroom, the office, the bathroom with its low tub, the library, the clunkily modern chapel.
His best times were spent with his closest friends, many of them Polish, around the big table in the dining room. . It had become customary for John Paul to have his Polish friends at his side during Christmas and Easter, the Church's great feast days. Now they were there all the time, and the mood was something other than festive. "It was very sad to seehis servant bending over and cutting his food for him, as for any elderly person," a Roman layman told me.
He writes of Wojtylas final hours.
Edmund Szoka, the American governor of Vatican City, recalled the pope's final hours for me last July.
"I got a call from Dziwisz in the morning, saying, 'Can you come over?'" It was Friday, April 1. John Paul had concelebrated mass at dawn and had followed a recitation of the Stations of the Cross. He lay clad in a white dressing gown, an echo of his official vestments. His closest friends were there: Dziwisz and an aide, Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki; Stanislaw Rylko; three Polish nuns; and three doctors. "I knelt and kissed his hand," Szoka said. "I said in Polish, 'I am praying for you day and night.' He was fully aware, though he could not speak. After a few moments I got up, and as a priest I am used to giving a blessing to sick people. So I gave him a blessing"moving his right hand over the bedridden man in a sign of the cross"and in reply he made the sign of the cross. And I thought, Who am I to give a blessing to the pope?"
Ratzinger was not present when John Paul died.
Joseph Ratzinger did not take part in the deathbed vigil in the papal apartments. He was not even in Rome. After making a visit to John Pauls bedside at midday Friday (it was only his second visit in the eight weeks of the popes illness), he left the city to go to the Benedictine monastery at Subiaco, an hours drive north of Rome, where he was to receive the Premio San Benedettothe Saint Benedict Prize for the promotion of life and the family in Europe.
(Ratzinger was in Subiaco on April 1st. He was back in Rome that same evening. The Pope died the next day, April 2nd)
In spite of their close collaboration, Elie questions if they were really close friends.
In character for Ratzinger, the visit to Subiaco was also characteristic of his relationship with John Paul. He had served the pope without ceasing but not without reservation; he had maintained a certain distance, for he was not a friend or a follower of Wojtyla so much as a co-worker in the truth. John Paul's illness had prompted him to stand apart more emphatically, to work the margins of the papal office. With John Paul's death he was, in important ways, on his own. More than ever he had things to do. As dean of the cardinals he had to prepare himself, practically and spiritually, for what was next: the funeral, the meetings of the cardinals, the conclave. As a presumptive pope he had to uphold John Paul's legacy while keeping clear of the clannish folk who had encircled the dying pope. "That whole devotional aspect of the Polish mafia made him uncomfortable," my friend John told me. "He saw the cult of personality around John Paul as a big problem. And they knew it. Those Polish people knew that once John Paul was dead, it was all over for them."
Elie watched Ratzinger at the funeral
From atop the right colonnade, where I was seated, Ratzinger looked like a pope in the making. His thick white hair made him appear more vigorous than the men behind him, most of them gray-haired or balding. His red robes whipped this way and that as he circled the altar. Most striking of all was his speaking voice, as he began the homily by extending a greeting, in delicate Italian, to his "fratelli e sorelle"his brothers and sisters.
Of the months since the election of Pope Benedict XVI
In the months since then experts have sought evidence of a secret side to the new pope: an alternative to the forbidding stereotypes, a counterpoint to the exacting world view that he has developed over a lifetime. But there have been no great surprises. Benedict has exercised the papal office with the assurance of a man who put reflections on "the primacy of Peter" at the heart of his recent theology, and who watched a pope from close range for twenty-five years.
Together John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger carried out what Ratzinger declared the "authentic interpretation" of Vatican II. As a result, in Rome today all the great Catholic controversies of the past half centuryabout women, sexuality, politics, and authority in the Churchare considered settled, and settled in the conservatives' favor. This gives Benedict a clear set of precedents and a staff of people who share his point of view. Yet it leaves him with less to do than the popes who preceded him. It means that his influence will most likely be felt more through his character than through his power to bring about change.
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