For Benedict XVI, this has been a week of milestones. The pontiff turned 85 on Monday, making him the oldest pope in the last 110 years and one of just six to reign past 85 in the last half-millennium. On Thursday, Benedict also marked the seventh anniversary of his election to the papacy in April 2005.
It’s been a week for remembrance of things past in another sense, too.
Two Vatican headlines recalled the feverish images of Benedict from seven years ago, when the new pope was depicted as a ruthless enforcer poised to lead the ecclesial equivalent of Sherman’s march to the sea. The first involves a potential deal to end the Lefebvrite schism, bringing the church’s most notorious traditionalist rebels back into the fold; the second concerns a crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main umbrella group of women’s orders in the United States, for alleged deviations on women’s ordination, homosexuality and radical feminism.
Yet if we take the last seven years into view, not just the last week, the picture changes considerably. Quite often, the most intriguing feature of this papacy isn’t how Benedict has confirmed expectations, but rather how he’s confounded them. Indeed, if John Paul II was a “pope of firsts” and a “pope of surprises,” Benedict XVI may well go down as a “pope of ironies.”
The following are eight such defining ironies, meaning sharp contrasts between the stereotypes and mythology that surrounded Benedict at the beginning versus the lived reality of his reign.
‘Doctor No’ becomes the pope of yes
If Benedict XVI truly is a cultural warrior, he’s a curiously stealth version. Quite often in the last seven years, when people expected him to come out swinging, he’s pulled his punches instead. On his recent foray into Mexico, for instance, Benedict avoided any direct mention of either abortion or gay marriage, despite the fact that Mexico City is among the first jurisdictions in Latin America to legalize both. Continue reading
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