Saturday, December 31, 2005

Shakin' up the bishops (some of whom could use it...)

From the Herald Sun :

IT was always going to be a hard act to follow, but Pope Benedict XVI has taken a surprise "softly softly" approach in taking over from Pope John Paul II.

After eight months Pope Benedict, at 78, is curiously displaying no signs of being in a hurry.
His moves and decisions so far have been minor, nothing like the reactionary, hard-line pontificate hostile commentators had predicted.

Up to his last days, John Paul II set a frenetic pace, criss-crossing the world and issuing a blizzard of sermons and papal documents.

Benedict has slowed things down considerably.

He meets fewer dignitaries, makes fewer speeches and statements and travels far less frequently than his predecessor -- though he has pencilled in a trip to Australia for World Youth Day in 2008.

His twice-weekly sermons at St Peter's Square, however, attract larger crowds and are considered easier to understand than those of his predecessor, whose heavy Polish accent was slightly slurred.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his reputation was as the intransigent Vatican enforcer -- the Grand Inquisitor -- but as pope, Benedict's demeanour has been joyful and serene.

For Australian church commentator Dr Paul Collins, whose book God's New Man hit the bookshops soon after the April conclave, Benedict has done the right thing by doing very little.

"We needed a retreat from the high papacy of JPII. He tried to be omnipresent and was up for every gig that you could poke a stick at," Dr Collins said.

"In Benedict we have a more modest approach -- he's got a better grip of the true role of the pope, which is partly to inspire others to use their gifts."

Benedict is a deep thinker, thorough and brutally analytical. Problems are approached from every angle and then acted on, decisively.

But he is also from folksy beer-drinking Bavaria.

He relaxes by playing Mozart on his piano and prefers traditional sacred music and art.

It is believed he wants big improvements in the liturgy, but realises tens of millions of Catholics have grown accustomed to their suggestions being included in masses, weddings and funerals.

Dr Collins predicted that priorities for the new pope would include healing the 1000-year rift with the Orthodox churches, reorganising the curia (the central administration of the church) and appointing a more talented bench of bishops.

Others predict Benedict will attempt to reform the church's liturgy, which they believe has gone from a universal and familiar rite to a free-for-all at which congregations have a tendency to worship themselves rather than God -- with bad music to go with it. (me: uh, yeah!! Clean up the music, please!!)

Another church commentator, Fr Ephraim Chifley, said the curia was likely to be frightened of the new pope because he used to be one of them.

Cardinal Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine and the Faith for 24 years.

"No one knows what he's going to do," Fr Chifley said. "Because he is 'curia wise', he won't be suffering from staff capture."

Fr Chifley also described the new pope as a man of symbols.

"What he's done so far suggests he is very 'old school' and won't be conducting vast masses with dancing girls," he said. (me: did anyone ever have a Mass with dancing girls?? If so, I want to see a tape!)

"He's a step-by-step man, but no one will have any doubts about what direction he is heading in."

HIS few decisions so far have included prohibiting sexually active gay men from training to be priests and a crackdown on seminary professors promoting a gay culture.

However, Benedict sensibly stopped short of totally banning a religious life for those with homosexual inclinations.

At the same time he opted to maintain the tradition of a celibate priesthood -- something likely to create difficulties for many bishops.

But Benedict also invited the church's most famous rebel, Hans Kung, to his summer palace -- and the liberal theologian said the meeting was friendly.

Papal watchers predict Pope Benedict is likely to axe several Vatican departments and bring to heel the all-powerful Secretariat of State, which has run the church since Pope Paul VI upgraded it in the 1960s.

When still a cardinal, Benedict argued that the two biggest problems facing the church were its lacklustre bishops and the crisis in the liturgy.

However, a recent synod of hundreds of bishops in Rome showed his "generals" were extremely reluctant to revive past practices and Benedict knows he cannot move too far ahead of them.

W HILE there are exceptions, the Catholic Church's bishops range from the uninspiring and complacent through to the timid and negligent.

Dr Collins agrees that quality of bishops is a major problem, but argues that the pool of clergy to choose from are "limited, small and ageing".

"He won't be able to do much to brighten up our bishops, because he refuses to broaden out who can be ordained," Dr Collins said.

Inside the Vatican editor Dr Robert Moynahan recently declared that the new pope faced myriad problems, but all were reducible to just one: the faith.

"We all know the consequences of the loss of faith: selfishness, sin, cruelty, oppression, strife, division, suffering, disease, tears, hatred, death," Dr Moynahan said.

"However, the overall 'plan' of Benedict's pontificate can be nothing other than this -- as it is the overall plan of all popes: to preserve the faith and to confirm others in the faith."

When many believe we are in the post-Christian era, it is equally a very modest and a monumental agenda, but more than enough to keep a man on the cusp of his 80th birthday occupied.

I just want to see the dancing girls. :) And can we please, please, please get back to the Old Mass music? I mean, some of the new stuff is good, but I want "O Sacred Head Surrounded" during Lent and "Of the Father's Love Begotten" at Christmas, and the chant!! I want Old School occassionally. And can Catholic schools please instill in their pupils correct singing method? Maybe then our singing would get better (although at my parish, we're no slouches, thank you).

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