In the four years since the 265th Bishop of Rome stepped out on to the loggia of St Peter's to be presented urbi et orbi, "to the city and the world", Pope Benedict XVI has systematically dismantled the media cartoon of "God's Rottweiler" that had dogged him for decades. A few months after his election, while vacationing at the papal summer villa, Castel Gandolfo, he invited his old theological adversary, the Swiss dissident Hans Küng, to stop by for a conversation and a beer or two. Confounding the critics who claimed he could never compete with "John Paul Superstar" for the affections of the young, he has presided over two successful World Youth Days, in Cologne and Sydney. He displayed a well-honed pastoral sensibility in his May 2008 Washington meeting with the victims of clerical sexual abuse, as he did in reaching out to the relatives of those who had died on 9/11 after his silent prayer over the ruins of the Twin Towers in New York.
His September 2006 Regensburg Lecture on faith and reason is still deplored by uncomprehending reporters and soi-disant Vatican insiders as a major diplomatic "gaffe". The truth of the matter is that Benedict sent such salutary shock waves throughout the worlds-within-world of Islam that more robust patterns of interreligious dialogue are slowly emerging. Issues once considered untouchable - religious freedom as a fundamental human right that can be known by reason, and the necessary separation of religious and political authority in a just state - are now, at Benedict's insistence, at the forefront of the dialogue between Catholicism and Islam. His address to the United Nations General Assembly in April 2008 was a powerful and compelling argument that the exercise of freedom must be guided by moral truths, and that those moral truths are accessible to men and women of good will who take the risk of thinking seriously. Regularly defying the nay-sayers who argued that Ratzinger would be simply unpresentable in public, Benedict's weekly audiences in Rome continue to draw large crowds, many of them larger than those drawn by John Paul II.
In his first two encyclicals, Deus Caritas Est [God Is Love] and Spe Salvi [Saved in Hope], he has displayed a striking ability to elucidate the basics of Christian faith in a way that takes full account of postmodern scepticism. In these letters, the once-dreaded "enforcer of orthodoxy" responds to unbelief or weak belief in a spirit of conversation, not condemnation. His international bestseller, Jesus of Nazareth, sympathetically explored an American rabbi's imaginary conversation with Jesus, even as Benedict reminded all Christians of the debt that Christianity owes to its parent, Judaism.
- ONLINE ONLY: Academic Boycotts Teach Us Nothing
- ONLINE ONLY: Send in the Clowns
- ONLINE ONLY: Thatcher, Reagan and the Dictators
- The Resolute Courage of Margaret Thatcher
- America's New Isolationists Are Endangering the West
- An Alternative To Our Reckless Energy Gamble
- The Family is the Key to the Future of Faith
- Persecuted Muslims Who Love Life in England
- They Were the Future of the Tory Party, Once
- The Parable of the Stupid Samaritan
- Pope Frank: In the Footsteps of St Francis
- The Middle Kingdom's Problem with Religion
- We Abandon Christians in the East At Our Peril
- Feminism Or Islamism: Which Side Are You On?
- At Last: Gove Goes For the Culture of Excuses
- Is There a Way Out of the Tories' Modernising Mess?
- Online Only: The Kenyatta Dilemma
- Cameron is the Euro's Best Hope for Survival
- Census That Revealed a Troubling Future
- The Servant of the servants of God Departs in Peace