Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Newsweek: schizophrenic portrayal of the pope

Here's a quick preview at what caught my eye-
I was checking my email on MSN.com, and I saw a little link with a picture of Benedict. Above him read "Benedict XVI, Superstar?"; to his left reads "Hardly. US Catholics need him, but he just doesn't connect"; to his right read: "Wait a minute: This is a historic, exciting papacy".

The two articles reflect how the media dubs Benedict: unpredictable and a paradox.
They simply do not get him.

The first article, by Lisa Miller, is, well, stupid. Her writing is about as shallow as it gets. Her last article for Newsweek was entitled "Is Your Rabbi Hot or Not?". Uh, yeah. She's trying to lower expectations, maybe even turn people away from paying attention. This certainly will not work, because the pope's words are simply too important and interesting; it is essential to listen now as it was when he gave a lecture at his old university. If they listened hard then, they will have to listen when he's on the big stage...

The second article, on the "historic" nature of Benedict's papacy, is by none other than George Weigel. I applaud Newsweek with giving some balance to this story.

Here are a few excerpts of each article...

Why This Pope Doesn’t Connect

Benedict has done little to appeal to an American flock that is in need of a serious spiritual catharsis. [At the onset, we can see how Miller views Christianity- only relevant if it's exciting or "cathartic" in her words. She has bought into the drive-by-media mentality, where most people have the attention span of a flea. If Lisa lived in 1st c. Jerusalem, under Tiberius Augustus, I wonder if she would have thought Jesus was boring?]

by Lisa Miller

The Rev. Gerald Fogarty decided not to go to the pope's mass in Washington because he's busy teaching that day at the University of Virginia. The Rev. John Dufell considered joining him at Yankee Stadium, but he's got a couple of weddings to do, so he also passed. Paul Kane, a retired lawyer who goes to church in Georgetown, actually laughed at the idea, and Barbara Breshcia, who prays at St. Patrick's Cathedral several mornings a week, didn't even know the Holy Father was coming. Buttonholed on Fifth Avenue the week before Benedict XVI's arrival in New York, Breshcia was perplexed. "He's coming when? This week? Oh, next week. Is he coming to St. Patrick's?" Well, yes, and celebrating mass there, but never mind. [This intro is stupid. It does not say anything about the importance of the pope's visit. What if we had articles about what the common priest or laymen was doing during the investiture conflict? I suspect people in Sweden would probably not even know who the pope was. Is that breaking news? Idiot!]

The cameras will begin to roll on Tuesday, and despite what's sure to be wall-to-wall coverage of ceremonial events, punctuated by mind-numbing dissections of the pontiff's veiled pronouncements [Miller reveals what she really thinks about the pope with this smarta$$ remark], the truth is that among American Roman Catholics, excitement about this pope and his trip is remarkably low [Is that really true? Are not his books at the top of the bestsellers among Catholic authors? Yeah... so where does Miller get this "low interest" stuff? Her own mind, or the people she wants to interview.]. It's not just that Benedict pales in comparison to his predecessor John Paul II in almost every respect, including looks, vitality, charisma, showmanship, tenure and popular appeal—facts so obvious that even Benedict's defenders concede them immediately before trying to spin their man's "timid" temperament and essential "humility" as spiritual assets. It's that Benedict himself has done very little to win the hearts of his American flock at what may be the most critical moment in their history [Because being pope is all about "winning hearts"? Um no, it's all about saving souls!].

Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the gap between what the church teaches and what the American laity practices has been growing ever wider. According to a 2005 survey by Catholic University sociologist William D'Antonio and his colleagues, 58 percent of American Catholics believe you can be a "good" Catholic and disregard the church's teachings on abortion. Sixty-six percent believe you can ignore its position on divorce and remarriage. Seventy-five percent believe you can disregard the ban on birth control. Seventy-six percent think you don't have to go to church every week. [This is exactly why this papacy is exciting, important, and attractive to young people. Miller needs to do some research beyond media polls.]

Enough of this crap... same ol', same ol'. Let's move on to the Weigel article (thank God!).

How Benedict XVI Will Make History

The master teacher who follows John Paul is a moral leader who's begun an unprecedented conversation with Islam.

By George Weigel | NEWSWEEK
Apr 21, 2008 Issue

According to a title first used by Gregory the Great (590–604), the Bishop of Rome is the "Servant of the Servants of God." The Roman Catholic Church recognizes 265 of those servants as legitimate popes. Some were historical titans; others labored in obscurity. Some were saints, including more than two dozen martyrs; others were scandalous sinners. Some were reformers whose legacy in Catholic doctrine and practice is visible today; others were complicit in corruption. Some were men of genius, both intellectual and organizational; others were mediocrities. A few years back, a veteran Vatican bureaucrat remarked that "God has been very kind to us; we haven't had a wicked pope in 500 years." That wistful expression of gratitude suggests something of the papacy's staying power while hinting at its complex history.

The influence and magnetism of the modern papacy are, in fact, surprises. When Leo XIII was elected in 1878—the first pope in 1,100 years not to control substantial territory as an internationally recognized sovereign—many thought the papacy an impotent anachronism. Leo, however, created the modern papacy as an office of moral persuasion. John Paul II, elected precisely 100 years after Leo, turned the papal bully pulpit into something to be reckoned with in the world. John Paul was one of the key figures in the collapse of European communism; he also played a significant role in democratic transitions in Latin America and East Asia, while defending the universality of human rights and challenging the intolerant secularism of European high culture.

That many Catholics feel a deep personal connection to the pope is another relatively new, and in some respects surprising, phenomenon. [Miss Miller, did you read that?]


The different personalities of John Paul II and Benedict XVI sometimes mask their shared (and unshakable) conviction that religious and moral ideas can redirect the course of human affairs. And that, in turn, suggests the possibility that Benedict XVI may have had his own "June 1979 moment"—a moment that was missed, or misunderstood, at the time.

That moment was the most controversial episode in Benedict XVI's pontificate: his Regensburg Lecture on faith and reason, delivered at his old German university on Sept. 12, 2006. By quoting a Byzantine emperor's sharp critique of Islam, Benedict XVI drew worldwide criticism. Others, however, including significant personalities in the complex worlds of Islam, took the pope's point about the dangers of faith detached from reason quite seriously. And over the ensuing 19 months, there have been potentially historic tectonic shifts going on, both within Islam and in the world of interreligious dialogue.

Benedict has received two open letters from Muslim leaders; the October 2007 letter, "An Open Word Between Us and You," proposed a new dialogue between Islam and the Vatican. That dialogue will now be conducted through a Catholic-Muslim Forum that will meet twice yearly, in Rome and in Amman, Jordan. The forum will address two issues that Benedict XVI has insisted be the focus of conversation: religious freedom, understood as a human right that everyone can grasp by reason, and the separation of religious and political authority in the modern state.

Perhaps even more important, given his influence in Sunni Islam, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited Benedict XVI in November 2007. Subsequently, the king announced his own interfaith initiative, aimed at drawing representatives of the three monotheistic faiths into a new conversation, and negotiations between the Holy See and Saudi Arabia opened on building the first Catholic church in the kingdom. (A new Catholic church, also the first of its kind, recently opened in Doha, Qatar.) Abdullah's voice was noticeably absent from the chorus of critics who charged Benedict XVI with "aggression" for baptizing Magdi Allam, a prominent Italian journalist and convert from Islam, in St. Peter's Basilica on March 22. That all of this has happened after Regensburg is, at the very least, suggestive.

In addition to reshaping the dialogue between Catholicism and Islam, Benedict XVI has made significant changes in the Vatican's intellectual approach to these volatile issues. Catholic veterans of the interreligious dialogue who did not press issues like religious freedom and reciprocity between the faiths have been replaced by scholars who believe that facing the hard questions helps support those Muslim reformers who are trying to find an authentic Islamic path to civility, tolerance and pluralism. Thus Benedict XVI has quietly put his pontificate behind the forces of Islamic reform—and may have found a crucial ally with a Saudi king who is wrestling with Wahhabi extremism in his own domain.

Read the rest here. Thanks, George!

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