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April 19, 2005

The Upside of Ratzinger as Pope

On first blush, it's a bit depressing that the Catholic Cardinals have picked a Pope identified with rigid imposition of orthodoxy within the Church. Then again, that was his job as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, so while we can expect continued conservatism on social issues, there are encouraging signs on other issues of global justice from Ratzinger's history.

Take the issue of the Iraq War, Ratzinger opposed "preventive war" and spoke out in support of the US working through the United Nations.

And on social justice, while Ratzinger is well-known as "the Enforcer" who attacked Libertation Theology advocates throughout the developing world, his major statement against the trend, Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation" is actually a very strong statement of his view of the Catholic Church's commitment to economic justice, even as he attacks church leaders for not emphasizing spirituality during such campaigns and for endorsing ideologies that he sees as based on violence. But the commitment to justice is clear:

More than ever, it is important that numerous Christians, whose faith is clear and who are committed to live the Christian life in its fullness, become involved in the struggle for justice, freedom, and human dignity because of their love for their disinherited, oppressed, and persecuted brothers and sisters. More than ever, the Church intends to condemn abuses, injustices, and attacks against freedom, wherever they occur and whoever commits them. She intends to struggle, by her own means, for the defense and advancement of the rights of mankind, especially of the poor.
And while Ratzinger makes a strong philosophical criticism of Marxist analysis in his work, he also warns the economic elite not to mistake his words for endorsement of privilege:
The warning against the serious deviations of some "theologies of liberation" must not be taken as some kind of approval, even indirect, of those who keep the poor in misery, who profit from that misery, who notice it while doing nothing about it, or who remain indifferent to it. The Church, guided by the Gospel of mercy and by the love for mankind, hears the cry for justice and intends to respond to it with all her might.
In many ways, Ratzinger is making a Gandian argument for non-violent methods and moral persuasion as tools in struggle:
The acute need for radical reforms of the structures which conceal poverty and which are themselves forms of violence, should not let us lose sight of the fact that the source of injustice is in the hearts of men. Therefore it is only by making an appeal to the 'moral potential' of the person and to the constant need for interior conversion, that social change will be brought about which will be truly in the service of man.
The whole piece is in essence a demand that bishops and priests who work for social justice conform to the hierarchical structure of the Church. It's not a democratic view of the Church, but we knew that already about Ratzinger. But overall, it's a document that gives encouragement that Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, has a strong view of the role of the Church in support of social justice in the world.

Update: Josh pointed me to a site that indicates the new Pope Benedict was instrumental in strengthening the Church's position against the death penalty.

Posted by Nathan at April 19, 2005 06:24 PM