By Marco Tosatti
(La Stampa) I am curious, in a way that might come across as slightly malicious, about one thing. I wonder how many of those who voted for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in April 2005 expected the Bavarian Pope to still be here among us seven years on. Despite his brisk baby steps which are made all the more uncertain by the problems he has with his hip and his right knee, Benedict XVI is still here and retains his eagerness to do things. Unfortunately it is a difficult question to ask let alone respond to sincerely. What many cardinals expected to be a transitional papacy is in fact turning into something quite different. It is turning into a foundational kingdom, created by someone who seeks to work silently, persistently and deeply.
How? Not many are aware of the fact that a great deal of Benedict XVI’s time and effort is spent on mysterious work which does not and should not attract the media’s attention but is fundamental to Church life: this is in order to prevent giving the media any negative reasons to start focusing on it any time soon.
Benedict XVI is adamant that the strength - and weakness - of the Church is found first and foremost in the dioceses, in local Churches. During John Paul II’s pontificate, the choice of bishops was often left to presidents of Episcopal Conferences, to nuncios and to other components of the central and local Churches. If what is told to us is true, - and we have no reason to doubt it is so - the Pope has, in recent years, been reluctant to sign anything. John Paul II delegated; he trusted those he worked with, sometimes unsuccessfully, as history has shown us.
Benedict XVI’s has a different style. He studies every dossier prepared for the three candidates in each diocese, he examines the course of studies and professional experience of potential future bishops and finally takes a decision. Indeed, he often asks for other candidates to be presented to him if he is not satisfied by the individuals who have been shortlisted. It is a tedious and not particularly glamorous task, but one for which the Church of the next few decades will be very grateful to him.
This is Benedict XVI’s style and it remains unchanged since his cardinal days. It is a solitary one for sure; a part from the occasional visit to elderly German speaking cardinals, it is impossible to recall a time when Ratzinger showed a social streak during his time in the Curia, inviting and being invited to the homes of colleagues and friends.
The same solitude is perceived now that he is Pope. The progressive weakening of his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone only emphasises this. Towards the end of his papacy, Pius XII had two reputable bulldog-like men, Tardini and Ottaviani, to watch out for him as he got old. Paul VI had Benelli to keep the Secretary of State and the Curia under control. But in Benedict XVI’s case, it is difficult to point with certainty to any figures that could be termed “the Pope’s men” beyond the Bronze Door. Except for Bertone, who nevertheless seems incapable of reacting in an efficient manner to the attacks that the various poison pen letter writers have been launching at him over the past few months. And no answer has come from the full blown “inquiries” into the Vatileaks scandal, involving leaked documents concerning the papal Apartment. Neither has any light been shed by the Vatican commission of cardinals, whose members and work remain a mystery, to the extent that many actually doubt it even exists.
During the seven years of his papacy, Benedict XVI has gradually carried out his role taking steps forward; trying to honour John Paul II’s often heavy and ambiguous legacy; to defend himself and the Church from a number of attacks and malevolence that have not been witnessed since the Cold War, often with inadequate or insufficient means. Above all, - to return to the beginning of this reflection - Benedict XVI has carried out his role with such resilience, including physical, which cannot fail to surprise and perhaps does surprise some, whilst leading others to believe that the current Pope is not so alone after all; perhaps he is in good Company. Ad multos annos.