As an adviser working for Catholic Relief Services in the Balkans, I was forced to admire the single most powerful political advantage held by bishops and cardinals: time. They had plenty of it. No electoral cycles. No funding deadlines. Faced with a difficult situation they could simply choose not to engage and wait out their secular, time-pressed adversary. This was a favorite tactic of many ultra-nationalist bishops who used this tool to avoid the church's teachings on social justice.
So when I spotted a recurring theme in this morning's commentary on the elevation of Pope Benedict, I was none too surprised. The idea is that Ratzinger's election is a stalling tactic—a compromise between those cardinals who want to preserve and advance the legacy of John Paul II and advocates for change who don't have a good read on what or who should come next. From the LA Times :
The quick election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger speaks quiet volumes about what cardinals seek from the new pope: a stable interregnum after 26 years under the charismatic Pope John Paul II. Benedict XVI will hold to the late pope's theologically conservative line, but he won't do it all that long, giving the church a breather in which to plan its future.
The cardinals are divided and don't know where to lead the church. So they've decided to wait.
Unfortunately, the tremendous problems facing the world will not bend to their timeline. Energy shortages, debt, climate change and ecosystem depletion will present the world—especially the Catholic world—significant crises before Benedict's successor will be chosen. John Paul II was well prepared to deal with the major challenge of his day: communism. But Ratzinger must confront not secularism, syncretism or relativism—for which he is disturbingly well suited—but consumerism. The global economy is consuming the planet and the resource wars have already begun.
And yet the problem is not that Ratzinger's background may be irrelevant. It's worse. If Ratzinger simply maintains his conservative positions on papal authority, social policy, Islam and terrorism instead of focusing on the larger issues underlying events, Ratzinger will be colluding with the greatest threat to human dignity during his pontificate.
By the time he dies, it may be too late. The time to pull a John Paul II and liberate the world from the evil of consumerism is now.
Ratzinger could offer surprises. Let's pray he does.
| Wednesday 3:30 PM