Commentary by Michael Taube
The Interim

When Pope John Paul II died on April 2, many Christians and non-Christians mourned the loss of a great man. They respected what John Paul had done to defeat communism, build bridges with different faiths and work towards the betterment of society. He had been a superb leader of the Catholic church and a true friend to Christians, Jews and moderate Muslims.

So, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany became Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, it was hoped that many of these same people would give him a chance to prove himself. The new pope was a close ally of the old pope, an intelligent and respectful person, and he wanted to continue John Paul’s mission to strengthen Catholic relations with other religious groups while continuing to evangelize the Gospel.

Was Benedict granted a grace period? No.

Within hours of his ascent, the new pope was already being depicted as a “strong moral conservative” by liberal Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Benedict was labelled as “intolerant,” because he had the nerve to promote Catholicism over other religions. He was seen as “backward,” because of his views about female priests, abstinence and homosexuality.

Instead, these groups wanted this pope to “join the modern world,” “get with the times” and change Catholicism into something they would be more comfortable with.

“They?” I thought. Unless there is suddenly going to be a mass conversion to Catholicism, why would “they” even care? As Interim editor Paul Tuns wrote on his blog ( on April 29, “They shouldn’t be surprised that the Pope actually is Catholic.”

Yet, “they” are surprised. Even though every pope has been a Catholic and has followed the teachings of his faith, Benedict was expected to act differently, for some reason.

Fortunately, based on what we already know about Benedict, that’s not going to happen.

This pope will continue to oppose the destructive liberation theology that has dominated the Catholic church in Latin America. This pope will continue his support of traditional Catholic teaching. And this pope will continue to defend the intention, but not the spirit, of Vatican II, even if it drives liberal Catholics and some non-Catholics up the wall.

With this in mind, practising Catholics should brace themselves for increased attacks on this pope’s character and background from the secular media. That’s the only leg the media have left to stand on and it’s a gimpy one at that. In one case, just before he became pope, London’s Sunday Times hinted that Benedict might be a closet Nazi and called him a “theological anti-Semite.”

That’s ridiculous. Benedict was forced to join the Hitler Youth in 1941, because it was compulsory for all young Germans (unless you wanted to risk death, of course). But he left it for good when he was out of the seminary because, not surprisingly, he didn’t hate Jews and didn’t like Nazis. Besides, Yad Vashem has said this matter doesn’t need to be further explored. (I also guess the fact that Benedict’s father was an anti-Nazi policeman must have escaped the attention of Sunday Times editors.)

Meanwhile, Benedict played a major role in establishing normal relations between the Vatican and Israel. He prepared the 2000 document Memory and Reconciliation (which examined the church’s “faults of the past,” including Catholic-Jewish relations) and oversaw the preparation of The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scripture in the Christian Bible. That’s why Sam Ser of the Jerusalem Post recently wrote, “If that’s theological anti-Semitism, then we should only be so lucky to ‘suffer’ more of the same.”

Benedict’s past comments about Islam have also re-surfaced.

In October 2004, he said, “What offends Islam is the lack of reference to God, the arrogance of reason, which provokes fundamentalism.” He went on to say, “Europe was founded not on a geography, but on a common faith. We have to redefine what Europe is and we cannot stop at positivism.”

Strong words, but what did he exactly say that was wrong? Many Muslims are displeased by Europe’s increasing rejection of faith and Europe was founded on a common faith, Christianity. Both statements are, therefore accurate, and the latter even helps explain why Benedict expressed concern that Turkey, a quasi-democratic Muslim country, was being considered for acceptance into the European Union.

For all the baseless attacks on Benedict – and the ones to come – Interim readers should keep one thing in mind: John Paul was treated very poorly by the media and liberals, too, during his papacy, and look at the positive changes he made to the public’s perception of Catholicism.

Benedict may ultimately do the same thing in the face of adversity.