Has the ‘real Ratzinger’ come out to play?

National Catholic Reporter


When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to the papacy in April 2005, the popular forecast called for stormy weather ahead. This was, after all, the Vatican enforcer who had been leading a “smack-down on heresy since 1981”, in the words of T-shirts and coffee mugs marketed by a Ratzinger fan club. His rise elicited dread in some quarters and joy in others, but virtually everyone agreed big things were in the works.

During most of the past seven years, however, that anticipated upheaval has seemed a lot like the dog that didn’t bark. Back in February 2006, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus famously voiced “palpable unease” among those most elated by Ratzinger’s election, and that disappointment endured in a swath of Catholic opinion which had begun to despair that the pope would ever impose order.

Of late, however, many observers believe the “real Ratzinger” has finally come out to play. Consider the tumult of the past month:

•On April 18, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decreed a sweeping overhaul of the Leadership Conference for Women Religious, the main American umbrella group for the superiors of women’s orders, to correct what the congregation described as LCWR’s “corporate dissent” on issues such as women’s ordination and homosexuality, and its contamination by “radical feminism.”

•At least five Irish priests have faced Vatican-inspired discipline, with implementation left to their religious orders. Two Redemptorists have seen their writings for a church magazine either withdrawn or limited (one was also dispatched to a monastery for a six-week “reflection”), a Passionist prominent in the English media is now subject to prior censorship, and both a Marist and a Capuchin have been told to stop writing and speaking on certain hot-button topics.

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