Benedict’s Evangelical Blitzkrieg
Any astute observer of Joseph Ratzinger is aware of his deliberate and calculated agenda to wind back the clock during his papacy. He wants the Roman Catholic Church to reverse the damaging liberal social politics and rationalist theology that so weakened its political and moral authority in the decades following World War ii and return to the position it once enjoyed at the peak of its power.
Ratzinger accomplished much of this agenda in tandem with Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul ii. The closeness of the relationship enjoyed by the Polish pope and the Bavarian cardinal was evident by how religiously they adhered to their weekly scheduled private Friday meetings, and the fact that Ratzinger was the only cardinal permitted to address the pope in his native German tongue.
The papal political platform Ratzinger built in association with Wojtyla established the ideal launching pad for his now increasingly aggressive evangelizing papal agenda for the Roman Catholic Church.
Benedict’s most recent evangelizing initiatives have been directed at Latin America, specifically during his recent visit to Brazil to open the Fifth General Assembly of the Latin American bishops’ conference celam just north of the city of Sao Paulo.
This visit to Brazil was not by invitation. It was by Benedict’s own personal choice—thus, no doubt, in pursuance of the latest phase in his agenda to progressively evangelize the world.
That this pope is in a hurry to fulfill his agenda is made obvious by the fact that he has, just two years into his papacy, enjoined war on not one, but now on four distinct fronts—and has done so with elegance and panache using rapier-like thrusts of both tongue and pen.
On the home front, Benedict wasted no time in making a number of deliberate personnel changes at the Vatican after he took over in April 2005. He is intent on building a team in Rome that will support his agenda. He closed some Vatican offices and consolidated others, thus ensuring that no individual Vatican functionary is left with a degree of undue power that might frustrate his efforts at returning to a more traditionalist approach to liturgy, nor interfere with his wider global political agenda. We should expect to see further refining of the papal base of support in Rome as Benedict gains ground on the other three fronts of his evangelical crusade.
Benedict opened a second front in his onslaught last September at his old alma mater, University of Regensburg, when he, in the words of Dr. George Friedman, ceo of Stratfor, “thr[e]w a hand grenade” into the Islamic arena. The outcry over the pope’s deliberately chosen words in his verbal attack on Islam is now a matter of history. It was, as Friedman pointed out, “an elegant move. He has strengthened his political base and perhaps legitimized a stronger response to anti-Catholic rhetoric in the Muslim world. And he has done it with superb misdirection. His options are open” (Sept. 19, 2006). That’s the way of this pope. He will go for the jugular, but with such finesse that it leaves his options open. This is the mark of a quintessentially expert diplomat.
Benedict is working to stem the Islamic onslaught that has brought the crusading imams right up to the Vatican’s doorstep.
On a third front, the pope frontally attacked European secularism when he used the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the European Union to castigate the leaders of the EU for their failure to recognize the traditional religion of Europe, which grew out of Rome, in its declaration of fundamental values. He accused Europe of being “built upon a cynical form of pragmatism that compromises on all principles, sacrificing fundamental ideals and undermining the dignity of human nature and freedom” (CWNews.com, March 26).
CWNews.com recently ran a story pointing out how Benedict’s attacks on secularism were further endorsed by Bishop Giuseppe Betori, secretary of the Italian bishops’ conference. Betori declared that “the Christian people face a new challenge, in the form of political forces that are ‘attempting to storm our cities, undermine their peaceful order, and bring turbulence into their lives’” (May 16).
Benedict drew a fourth line in the sand in his global crusade during his most recent trip to Brazil. In his address to the bishops of Latin America, Benedict challenged them to galvanize a continent-wide evangelical crusade to rout the competing non-Catholic religions—“sects” as he called them—that have penetrated Latin America on the heels of the liberalizing wave that hit the church in the 1960s and ’70s.
Having declared, before gaining papal office, that no Protestant church could be regarded as a true church, it would seem that Benedict’s ecumenical thrusts will be primarily directed to the Orthodox religions. But it is the evangelical “sects” largely emanating from North America that have most significantly penetrated Catholicism in Latin America. A purge of these competing religious groups may well be on the horizon as Latino bishops lobby national governments for legislation to ban their operation within Latin America.
Pope Benedict has high hopes for his challenge to the Latin American bishops to evangelize afresh that which he calls “the continent of hope.” His intentions are to create the springboard within Latin America that will lead to a re-energizing of Catholicism not only in Europe, the continent of Rome’s “religious roots,” but also, indeed, across the whole globe!
That this is the ultimate goal of his evangelical agenda was made obvious during his weekly address in St. Peter’s Square Sunday, May 20. Addressing the crowd assembled below, Benedict called for a “‘renewed Pentecost’ for the entire church, and especially for the church in Latin America …” (CWNews.com, May 21).
But this pope’s agenda is broader than just an appeal for Catholic laggards to return to their faith. It has definite political overtones—of a global nature.
On the eve of the G8 conference shortly to convene under Germany’s leadership, CWNews.com ran an article headlined, “Global Economy Needs Catholic Insights, Pope Says.” Receiving delegates of the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation, established under John Paul ii to promote the social teachings of the church, Benedict “noted that their recent conferences have studied ‘Asian countries characterized by strong economic growth which, however, does not always lead to real social development; and on African nations where, unfortunately, economic growth and social development face many obstacles.’ In both cases, the holy father said, societies could profit from the insights of church teaching” (May 21).
As we have often pointed out, this is a pope worth watching: A real mover and shaker whose small, somewhat unimpressive physical appearance is belied by strength and force of his public pronouncements. Here, indeed, is a pope intent on evangelizing the world using religion, the world economy, social issues, global politics or whatever weapon he chooses that suits the time, place and public mood. And Benedict is making it increasingly clear that he is prepared to take on all comers in his quest to revive the global dominance of the Vatican’s religion.
Benedict xvi won’t rest until he has achieved that goal!