Funny, isn't it, how certain experts and leaders of other religions are so eager to explain to Pope Benedict XVI how to really be a pope? Of course, their "arguments" and statements can also make you wonder why they are considered experts or gained positions of leadership. A shining example is this piece in today's Baltimore Sun. First up, the former editor of America magazine:
"I think his problem is that he's a German academic who hasn't realized yet he's a pope," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. "There's certain things that an academic can say and have intellectual, unemotional discussions of. ... He's an extremely bright man, but he doesn't have any street smarts."
Next, a professor of history:
"He's not as political or diplomatic as was John Paul II," said Frank J. Coppa, a professor of history at St. John's University in New York. "He's more theologically oriented than he is diplomatically oriented."
Then a communications director:
"When you compare his efforts to reach out to the Muslims to those of the previous pope, there's a lot to be desired," said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. "We hope that the incident is not a signal of things yet to come. "Unfortunately, these most recent remarks are harming relations that were built up over years."
The chairman of the "theology" department at Georgetown University, which has a mysterious, even vague, relationship with the Catholic Church:
"His lenses are very thickly Christian in terms of how he views the world," Gillis said. Although "Benedict is a very distinguished Christian theologian," Gillis said, "he's not an expert on the history of religions."
Then this advice from a rabbi:
Rabbi Jack Bemporad of the Center for Interreligious Understanding, said the new pope has been forced to look beyond his previous "narrow kind of job." "He really had to understand the broader aspects of what being pope was," Bemporad said.
So, let's summarize so far:
• Benedict doesn't realize he is pope. This is because Germans, especially German academics (as opposed to American academics), have a hard time comprehending that they were actually elected pope. Whether this is due to excessive stupidity or humility is not clear.
• Benedict doesn't have "street smarts," which is to say, I'm guessing, that he never was the editor of America magazine.
• He's not political enough, and is too "theologically oriented." And when it comes to the spiritual leadership of a billion Christians, that simply won't do.
• He's not John Paul II. And we know that everyone — and I mean everyone — loved everything that John Paul II ever said or did. I dare you to find proof to the contrary.
• He's too Christian in his thinking. Again, this won't make the cut when it comes to being pope. A pope today really must be a pope of all people; he must a Hindu pope, a Muslim pope, a Jewish pope, an atheist pope.
• He's not an expert on the history of religions. This, again, from the chairman of the "theology" department at Georgetown. Take it or leave it.
• His work as head of the CDF was so narrow, he's having difficulty understanding what it means to be pope. As for the fact that he has been a priest for over fifty years, was a theological expert at Vatican II, one of the greatest Catholic (nay, Christian) theologians of the 20th century, an archbishop, and a high-ranking Vatican leader, and one of John Paul II's trusted advisors. Well, that's nice, but he's going to have to stop focusing on Christian theology and ideas. Who does he think he is, the pope?!
Finally, the truth does start to come out toward the end of the article:
There have been other missteps in his past, Coppa said. As prefect, the future pope "had some explaining to do" after publication of the declaration Dominus Iesus, which argued that the path to salvation was through Jesus Christ.
"When you're dealing in ecumenical dialogue, you try to focus on the points you have in common rather than how you differ from each other," Coppa said.
Ah ha! So perhaps, just perhaps, the problem is that some of the Catholic experts interviewed by the Sun have a problem with Benedict being, well, too Catholic and too hung up on the whole Jesus is Lord thing. First, dialogue with Muslims is not "ecumenical dialogue," which is limited to dialogue among Christians; it is more properly known as interreligious dialogue. Secondly, Coppa's understanding of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is faulty. Consider the words of the Holy Father:
First, they are silent about Christ: the kingdom of which they speak is "theocentrically" based, since, according to them, Christ cannot be understood by those who lack Christian faith, whereas different peoples, cultures and religions are capable of finding common ground in the one divine reality, by whatever name it is called. For the same reason they put great stress on the mystery of creation, which is reflected in the diversity of cultures and beliefs, but they keep silent about the mystery of redemption. Furthermore, the kingdom, as they understand it, ends up either leaving very little room for the Church or undervaluing the Church in reaction to a presumed "ecclesiocentrism" of the past, and because they consider the Church herself only a sign, for that matter a sign not without ambiguity.
That, by the way, was the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, from his encyclical Redemptoris Missio. Another helpful quote from the same document:
Those engaged in this dialogue must be consistent with their own religious traditions and convictions, and be open to understanding those of the other party without pretense or close-mindedness, but with truth, humility and frankness, knowing that dialogue can enrich each side. There must be no abandonment of principles nor false irenicism, but instead a witness given and received for mutual advancement on the road of religious inquiry and experience, and at the same time for the elimination of prejudice, intolerance and misunderstandings.
"Truth, humility, and frankness." To me, that summarizes very well the work of Benedict XVI. It is others who seem to be practicing the "abandonment of principles" and "false irenicism".
Finally, it is only right to end on a positive note, provided by a somewhat (to my mind) surprising, but welcome, source:
Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, a member of an interreligious committee of the United States Conference of Bishops who is known for his outreach to the Jewish community, wrote yesterday in response to some of the criticism that "it should be clear that rather than being a critical analysis of Islam, [Pope Benedict's] address invites us all to reject violence as a way of solving problems. ... For the discerning reader, Pope Benedict offers his plea for reconciliation and peace in terms both scholarly and persuasive."