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Benedict the Moderate?

“Now that the dust has settled a bit,” says Fr. Richard McBrien, “it may be appropriate to offer a tentative reflection” on Pope Benedict XVI. Writing in the Observer (the paper of the Diocese of Monterey, Calif.; June), he says: “There were such emotional reactions to his election. Catholics on the right were jubilant — and the farther right they were, the more intense their jubilation. Many of them hopefully anticipate that Pope Ratzinger will be an even more effective scourge of so-called dissident Catholics than was Cardinal Ratzinger.” (You notice that McBrien speaks of dissent as “so-called”; McBrien himself is known far and wide as a dissenter.)

McBrien continues: “No one expressed this sentiment more boldly or more crudely than William Donahue,” the President of the Catholic League. Quoting him from USA Today (April 21), Donahue said: “The malcontents really have to make up their minds now. Are they going to accept the official teachings of the church, or continue their whining, or are they going to walk? Why stay where you’re not wanted?” McBrien pronounces this statement as “mean-spirited.” Little does McBrien realize that by calling Donahue’s remark “mean-spirited,” McBrien himself is being mean-spirited. Since McBrien makes no other comment on Donahue’s statement, he has not defeated what Donahue said. McBrien speaks of “emotional reactions,” and McBrien’s accusation is purely emotional.

McBrien goes on: “It remains to be seen whether, in choosing the name Benedict, Pope Ratzinger intends to follow in Benedict XV’s footsteps — a pope who tried to restore peace to the Catholic Church after the highly polarized pontificate of Pius X (1903-1914). Benedict XV urged those on both sides of the internal conflict to stop using prejudicial adjectives to describe their own brand of Catholicism. Catholicism, he insisted, needs no ‘fresh epithets’ [Ed. Note: such as mean-spirited?]. We are all simply Catholics.”

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