Note: This article, "Reading Ratzinger," is not available online.
For 25 years, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Roman Inquisition, renamed several times from 1542, and currently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He has been intractable in condemning homosexual acts and just as starkly anti same-sex marriage or civil unions. Now that he is Benedict XVI, we had not expected any change at all in the attitude of the Pope we like to call Benny the Rat.
However, Princeton professor of European History Grafton informs us that in his youth, Benny was liberal and loving. His mentor was Cologne, Germany's liberal Archbishop Joseph Frings. He suggests that the new Pope may draw on that background and not be so severe in the long run.
The leftist politics of the late 1960s turned Benny around and led him to transfer to a very conservative German university (Regensburg). From there, he went into the sometimes nasty and often reactionary world of doctrinal enforcement.
He describes the horrors of 1960s thought in The Ratzinger Report, a lengthy 1984 interview. According to Grafton:
"(M)any Catholics moved from a narrow, inward-fixed Christianity to an uncritical openness to the world." He saw this as a dangerous development, a result largely of the expansion of the European universities, which had produced a "new tertiary-educated bourgeoisie with its liberal-radical ideology of individualistic hedonistic character..."With that background, it is easy to see how he has come down so hard on gays. He doesn't even think married straights should have fun in bed.
To Ratzinger, the world of the sixties looked rather like a vast and frightening engraving in the manner of Gustave Doré, in which fanged demons of sensuality and "liberal-radical libertarian culture" attacked the few angels who still tried to defined God's Gothic, pinnacled towers..."
In light of his new position, it is scary to reflect on his writings and oral comments over the past quarter century. For example, in The Ratzinger Report, he seems to close off any idea of an evolving, expanding theology:
The problem in the sixties was to take on the best values that two hundred years of "liberal" culture had produced. For there are values that, though they appeared outside the Church, yet, suitably purified and corrected have their place in its world-view. And that has taken place.Of course, that would not expand to gay rights or ordination of women. He seems to be saying what you see is what is going to be.
Yet, Grafton concludes that the papacy may produce growth for Benny. "The Pope's job demands things that Ratzinger's old position as censor did not, and he a man of duty, who does what he is called to do."
Grafton seems appalled that the Pope endorsed a German critic's judgment that the Harry Potter books were "subtle seductions" of youth. The glimmer Grafton sees is "if the young scholar with his passion for learning from the dissidents, sometimes reappears in the imperious prelate whose mission now requires him not only to judge the city and the world from inside the walls of the Curia but also to confront and try to save them."