Pope Benedict XVI Roundup!

Greetings and welcome to another installment of the Pope Benedict Roundup, an occasional — usually monthly — roundup of news and commentary on the Holy Father and all things Benedict. You can view previous editions at the recently-established Benedict Blog, the blog of the Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club.

Pope Benedict XVI and the “Evolution Debate”

This weekend (September 2-3, 2006) Pope Benedict is taking some time to gather with a group of close friends, students and scholars in a private seminar to discuss the topic of Darwinian evolution. Ian Fisher ( Pope Benedict and his ex-students holding seminar on evolution, by Ian Fisher. The New York Times Sept. 2, 2006) reports on those attending:

As might be expected from a German professor, all sides of the evolution question will get a hearing, though with an emphasis on skepticism. The seminar on Friday reportedly began with a presentation by Peter Schuster, an eminent molecular biologist, president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and a defender of evolution.

There will be three other speakers to the study group, most notably Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who sparked a contentious debate last year after he wrote an Op-Ed article for The New York Times questioning evolution. The article was submitted by the same public relations firm used by the Discovery Institute.

The two other speakers are Professor Robert Spaemann, a German philosopher who has criticized evolution as a full philosophical theory; and the Reverend Paul Elbrich, a Jesuit priest and scientist whose work on proteins questions whether chance alone could play the decisive role in evolution.

Insight Scoop‘s Mark Brumley also provides some useful information on the participants in the Schuelerkreis:

This meeting is not an official Vatican function. The participants are former theology students of Joseph Ratzinger who are interested in this topic but who are, for the most part, by no means experts on the subject, certainly not on the scientific details of it. Nor do they represent themselves as experts. Their expertise is theology.

To be sure, the organizers of the Schuelerkreis have asked some experts on evolution and philosophy to participate. But their participation seems aimed at helping the theologians present to discuss the subject matter with greater scientific and philosophical precision. There is no indication of a forthcoming formal agreement by theologians and scientists or formal statement on the subject once the discussion ends.

(Hat tip: Blog by the Sea).

The seminar has been the source of much (and sometimes conflicting) speculatation by the press:

  • The New Scientist asserted that Benedict’s intention was to “firm-up the Catholic Church’s stance on Darwinian evolution” in response to “mixed messages, with some senior figures supporting Darwinism and others denouncing it” (Papal summit to debate Darwinian evolution, by Andy Coughlan August 30, 2006)
  • John Hooper of The Guardian announced that the Pope prepares to embrace theory of intelligent design (August 28, 2006), and that the meeting “could herald a fundamental shift in the Vatican’s view of evolution.”
  • AlterNet suggested that Pope may ditch evolution / Ratz flirts with creationism. Quipped Lindsay Beyerstein, “Maybe he’ll re-condemn Galileo next.”
  • And Time journalist Jeff Israely downplayed the notion of a “decisive shift’ (The Pope and Darwin Time August 31, 2006):

    . . . don’t expect the Catholic Church to start disputing Darwin’s basic findings, which Pope John Paul II in 1996 called “more than a hypothesis.” Moreover, advocates of the teaching in U.S. schools of intelligent design — which holds that nature is so complex that it must be God’s doing — should not count on any imminent Holy See document or papal pronouncement to help boost their cause. This weekend’s private retreat is an annual gathering of the Pope’s former theology students to freely discuss one topic of interest, without the aim of reaching any set conclusion.

Only a week ago, it was reported that Pope Benedict had “sacked” papal astronomer Fr. George Coyne over the evolution debate” (Simon Caldwell, Daily Mail. While Fr. Coyne submitted his need for chemotherapy treatment as the reason for stepping down from his post, his criticism of Cardinal Schonborn in the August 2005 London Tablet and alleged reputation for “theologically risque statements”, together with Schonborn’s invitation to address this weekend’s seminar, no doubt prompted some of the speculation by the press surrounding the event.

For an introduction to the weekend’s debate as it relates to the Holy Father, you could do no better than to check out Benedict’s thinking on creation and evolution, by John Allen Jr. in this week’s edition of “All Things Catholic,” in which — drawing from Ratzinger’s In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall — he provides a summary of Pope Benedict’s thinking on the subject in four basic concepts:

  1. Whatever the findings of the natural sciences, they will not contradict Christian faith, since ultimately the truth is one;
  2. As a scientific matter, the evidence for “micro-evolution” seems beyond doubt; the case for “macro-evolution” is less persuasive.
  3. Evolution has become a kind of “first philosophy” for enlightened thinkers, ruling out the possibility that life has any ultimate meaning. Here Christianity must draw the line.
  4. On the moral level, the widespread acceptance of evolution as a “first philosophy” is dangerous.

See also Reading Genesis with Cardinal Ratzinger, by Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco. Homiletic & Pastoral Review December 2003.

Update [9-3-06]: Reuters Religion editor Tom Heneghan provides a good post-discussion report: Pope and former students ponder evolution, not “ID” Reuters, Sept. 3, 2006. “The three-day closed-door meeting at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome ended as planned without drawing any conclusions but the group plans to publish its discussion papers, said Father Joseph Fessio S.J.”

Pope Benedict and the Middle East

  • “Our Lord Has Conquered With a Love Capable of Going to Death” Zenit News Service offers a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered during a ceremony for Mideast peace over which he presided in the church of Rhemes-Saint-Georges in the Aosta Valley (July 25, 2006):

    The Lord has conquered on the cross. He has not conquered with a new empire, with a force that is more powerful than others, capable of destroying them; he has not conquered in a human manner, as we imagine, with an empire stronger than the other. He has conquered with a love capable of going to death.

    This is God’s new way of conquering: He does not oppose violence with a stronger violence. He opposes violence precisely with the contrary: with love to the end, his cross. This is God’s humble way of overcoming: With his love — and only thus is it possible — he puts a limit to violence. This is a way of conquering that seems very slow to us, but it is the true way of overcoming evil, of overcoming violence, and we must trust this divine way of overcoming.

    To trust means to enter actively in this divine love, to participate in this endeavor of pacification, to be in line with what the Lord says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, the agents of peace, because they are the sons of God” . . .

    Precisely at this time, a time of great abuse of the name of God, we have need of the God who overcomes on the cross, who does not conquer with violence, but with his love. Precisely at this time we have need of the Face of Christ to know the true Face of God and so be able to take reconciliation and light to this world. For this reason, together with love, with the message of love, we must also take the testimony of this God, of God’s victory, precisely through the nonviolence of his cross.

    See also At the Summit on the Middle East, Benedict XVI Preaches the Cross of Jesus, by Sandro Magister. http://www.Chiesa July 26, 2006.

  • Mideast war brings pope’s foreign policy agenda into clearer focus, by John Thavis. Catholic News Service August 4, 2006:

    With the war in Lebanon, the Vatican’s Middle East policies under Pope Benedict XVI have come into clearer focus.

    To the surprise of some, they look just like the policies of Pope John Paul II.

    The Vatican’s insistent call for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon has highlighted a basic disagreement with the United States and some other Western governments. Backing Israel, the U.S. wants a cease-fire conditioned on a wider accord ultimately aimed at disarming Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon.

    The pope, on the other hand, has urged all sides to lay down their weapons now, saying nothing can be gained by the current fighting.

    Some parties have read into Benedict’s words a “moral equivalence” between Israel and Hezbollah. In August, First Things Robert T. Miller criticized Pope Benedict XVI’s call for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, later vehemently objecting to what he perceived as the Pope’s “unsupportable” pacifism. In War “no good to anyone” – The words of a Pacifist Pope? (August 19, 2006), Against The Grain (with due credit from RatzingerForum member “rcesq”) explained why such a pacifist portrayal of the Pope was ultimately unsupportable. See also Mark Brumley’s Does Israel = Hezbollah in B 16’s Moral Calculus? Insight Scoop August 1, 2006.

  • Lebanon and Clashes of Civilization: How to Recognize the Enemy, by Sandro Magister. http://www.Chiesa. August 22, 2006: “More Gospel and less diplomacy: this is the new course set by Benedict XVI. But geopolitics also has its reasons.” The theses of Vittorio E. Parsi, Giulio Andreotti, and the Jesuit scholar of Islam Samir K. Samir. Plus a comprehensive analysis by Pietro De Marco. (With Reactions and discussion on Amy Welborn’s Open Book).

  • In July, Benedict also asked the cloistered religious of the Carmel of Quart, the monastery he visited near his summer retreat in the northern Italy on Sunday, to pray for peace in the Middle East and for the conversion of terrorists.

Liturgical Music Revisited

Further Commentary on Deus Caritas Est

Other News and Commentary

  • The Activist Trap, National Review contributor Colleen Carroll Campbell examines Pope Benedict’s caution to Christians concerning “faith based political activism”:

    The activist trap that Pope Benedict warns against is a common and familiar one: The temptation to align too closely with a particular political party and demonize opponents, to equate one’s personal judgments with the eternal truths of the faith, and to define “the Christian position” on every policy issue, thus losing focus on the few fundamental moral questions where authentic Christian witness is most countercultural and most needed. Lurking beneath those temptations is the one Benedict criticizes most forcefully: The human urge to use social and political activism to distract from our deepest questions, most intimate struggles, and most urgent longings for truth, goodness, beauty — and God.

    While Benedict’s admonition against utopian social schemes and a materialist worldview seems particularly relevant to a Catholic liberals influenced by Marxist theories, conservatives should also beware becoming co-opted by political parties, hardened by ideology, negligent in charity, and hollowed out by incessant activity. In some ways, conservatives may need to hear Benedict’s message more than liberals. Those who believe most fervently in the socially transformative power of personal responsibility and personal conversion and in the existence of universal moral laws cannot expect to change the world through external activity and political victories alone. Their hope must lie in something deeper and more enduring, in the transcendent truths that can only be discovered in silence, solitude, and contemplation. As we leave summer behind and head into another contentious campaign season, Benedict’s advice — that we slow down, be still, and ponder the principles that inspire our activism — could not be more timely.

  • Pope Benedict brings new style to Vatican August 24, 2006. Philip Pullella, Reuters’ Senior Correspondent in Rome, reflects on how the new Pope had introduced a change in style from his predecessor, Pope John Paul II:

    A much more reserved man than his predecessor, Benedict has installed a new, quieter style in the Vatican’s “Sacred Palaces”, as the Holy See’s buildings are known in Italian.

    A German, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger lets few “outsiders” into his private apartments, so hints of what is on his mind rarely trickle out.

    Even Vatican officials on other floors in the papal palace say they sometimes have trouble guessing what the Pope will decide.

    One source famously told me during the first year of the papacy: “I can assure you, we not only know zero, we know less than zero.”

  • On Benedict XVI and Ecumenism August 21, 2006. Zenit News interviews Manuel González Muñana, professor of ecumenism at the San Pelagio Seminary in Cordoba, is author of “Ecumenismo y Nuevos Movimientos Eclesiales” (Ecumenism and New Ecclesial Movements), recently published by Monte Carmelo.
  • Pope chose unpretentious and thoughtful Bertone as Secretary of State within first months of Pontificate Catholic News Agency. August 18, 2006. An article published in the Italian journal “Il Riformista” provides a unique glimpse into the man Pope Benedict XVI chose to head what is arguably the most important dicastery of the Vatican. A surprising choice many Vatican insiders say, decided almost a year before it was announced.

    Amy Welborn (Open Book) provides excerpts from an interview with Bertone (from the Italian Il Giornale), along with an explanation of the responsibilities of the office.

  • On August 16, 2006, Pope Benedict remembered Brother Roger Schutz, founder of the ecumenical Taizé Community, one year after his death:

    “We pray to the Lord that the sacrifice of his life will contribute to consolidate the commitment to peace and solidarity of all those who have the future of humanity at heart,” the Pope added.

    A day before Brother Roger’s death, Benedict XVI received an affectionate letter from him in which he assured him of his ecumenical community’s intention to “walk in communion with the Holy Father.”

    Zenit News interviewed Roger’s successor, Brother Alois Loeser, on the future of Taizé and its first year following the loss of its founder.

  • On August 13, 2006, Pope Benedict gave an unprecedented television interview to German television. Although giving one-on-one television interviews, no head of the Catholic church has ever gone before the cameras to handle a panel of questioners for a full hour.

    Pope Benedict XVI’s interview with broadcasters Bayerische Rundfunk, Deutsche Welle, ZDF and Vatican Radio was held at his summer residence at Castelgandolfo on Aug. 5, 2006. The interview was conducted in German and translated and authorized by the Vatican. A transcript of Benedict XVI’s interview is provided by Vatican Radio as well as a audio recording [RealAudio format]. Video of the interview is also available online.

    See also How the Pope Deftly Steers Through a Biased Media Interview, by John-Henry Westen. LifeSiteNews August 16, 2006.

  • At the August 9, 2006 General Audience, Pope Benedict spoke on John the Evangelist (continuing his catechesis on the 12 Apostles), and began with a brief explanation of the rationale behind his first encyclical (thanks to Amy Welborn):

    “It is not by chance that I wanted to start my first encyclical letter with the words of this Apostle: ‘God is love’ (Deus caritas est); those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them’ (1 Jn 4:16). It is very difficult to find such writings in other religions. And so such expressions bring us face to face with a fact that is truly unique to Christianity.”

    Starting out not from “an abstract treatment, but from a real experience of love, with direct and concrete reference, that may even be verified, to real people”, John highlights the components of Christian love that the pope summed up in three points. . . .

  • Fr. Edward T. Oakes on the “Dictatorship of Relativism” (First Things “On the Square” August 3, 2006):

    Ever since he coined the term “the dictatorship of relativism” shortly before his election as Pope Benedict XVI, the phrase has continued to haunt me. At first glance it sounds like an oxymoron: How can a relativist seek to impose a dictatorship? Aren’t dictators called absolutists for a reason? If we define a relativist as someone who says that ethical norms vary from one community to the next and from one period of history to the next, how can a relativist forbid the moral norms that another community chooses to live by? But, of course, that happens all the time, as when Catholic Charities in California is ordered by a court to provide contraceptive costs in the medical insurance plans for their employees. Personally, I think David Bentley Hart is right, who once told me in conversation that there are no relativists, except maybe a few sophomores in a dorm on the campus of Arizona State University. . . .

    A somewhat more snide and ridiculing treatment of the phrase is delivered by the New Oxford Review (Bishop Morlino Discusses the ‘Dictatorship of Relativism’ July / August 2006).

  • Elizabeth Schiltz, of the Catholic legal theory blog Mirror of Justice, devotes her first post to Benedict XVI on Women and St. Augustine (July 24, 2006). The discussion is carred on by Ave Maria law professor Kevin Lee (Lee on John Paul II and Benedict XVI August 1, 2006).
  • During his summer vacation in northern Italy, Pope Benedict was reported to be working on a new book and encyclical (Catholic News Agency, Jul. 18, 2006):

    According to Salvatore Mazza, special correspondent for the Italian daily Avvenire, “It seems that, among other things, he has in his hands the book which he was writing before being elected to succeed John Paul II…a theological text.”

    The book, according to other sources close to the Vatican, will consider Christ and his relation to the human race, as well as the relationship between Christianity and the other world religions.

    Another work that may be occupying the Pontiff’s time prior his trip to Germany in September, is a new social encyclical centered on the value of human work.

    The previously noted sources speculate that the work may take the name, “Labor Domini,” or, “The Work of the Lord.” The encyclical is to speak about a Christian view of human labor, of the importance of work in society, and of work as a human necessity and duty.

  • “I am learning how to be the pope”, by Salvatore Mazza. Avvenire. A translation of the article kindly provided by Teresa Bendetta, relayed by Closed Cafeteria.
  • The August, 2006 issue of Inside the Vatican features an interview with Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ. Founder and director of Ignatius Press (leading publisher of Pope Benedict’s works in English), co-founder of Adoremus, and Provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, Fessio completed his doctoral thesis on “The Ecclesiology of Hans Urs Von Balthasar” under then Professor Joseph Ratzinger, at the University of Regensburg, Bavaria in 1975.

    In his interview, Fr. Fessio addresses various issues of B16’s first year, including the expectation that “many of his supporters expected a tough crackdown on dissenters in the Church,” the significance of recent appointments in the Curia; the appointment of Cardinal Levada as new prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, liturgical renewal and the prospect of a “universal indult” for the celebration of the Tridentine liturgy.

  • Pro Multis – by Fr. Z (What Does The Prayer Really Say?”):

    Back in 2004 when I wrote my weekly columns about the Eucharistic Prayers, I lingered over the consecration of the Precious Blood in four articles. In those articles I exposed the bad philological arguments used to justity the bad translation “for all”. To my knowledge no one had ever looked at it from that angle before. My old boss and still great friend, His Eminence Augustine Card. Mayer, one of the holiness men on earth, gave my articles to his close friend and colleague Joseph Card. Ratzinger. Soon thereafter I had a note from his Eminence (now His Holiness) about those articles. Also, I was able to write something up for a certain Prefect of a certain Congregation on this point. . . .

New Books by Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI: Servant of the Truth

Do you know the real Pope Benedict?

Journalist Peter Seewald does. After writing an unfair attack on Cardinal Ratzinger, he was urged by Catholic readers to meet with the man he was maligning. He did so—and the result was two book-length interviews, Salt of the Earth and God and the World. Seewald also returned to his Catholic faith, saying that Ratzinger was the one who “taught me what it meant to swim against the stream.”

This book, written mainly by Seewald, describes the paths of Joseph Ratzinger’s life from his birthplace in Bavaria all the way to being the first German Pope in 482 years. It is illuminated with a stunning collection of some of the most personal, and most surprising, photographs. These show the Pope as he really is: “a humble servant in the vineyard of the Lord”.

You can preview sample pages of Servant of the Truth on Ignatius.com.

Images of Hope: Meditations on Major Feasts

In Images of Hope: Meditations on Major Feasts, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) masterfully weaves together Scripture, history, literature and theology as he reflects on major feasts of the liturgical calendar. In each chapter, he examines works of sacred art that illustrate the hope we celebrate in our most important Christian holy days.

What do the humble ox and ass at the manger of the Christ Child tell us about Christmas? In an icon of Christ’s Ascension, what do the Savior’s hands held in blessing promise us? What is the meaning of the sword held by the great statue of Saint Paul before the Roman church that bears his name?

These and many other questions are explored with depth and sensitivity in this collection of meditations by the man who became Pope Benedict XVI. Several beautiful colored images of the relevant paintings, mosaics and sculptures accompany the rich and detailed text.

What It Means to be a Christian (Ignatius, June 2006):

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, writes eloquently and persuasively about how one can live as a serious Christian in today’s secular world. He talks in depth about the true meaning of faith, hope, and love–the love of God and the love of neighbor. He also discusses at length the crucial importance of a lived faith, for the believer himself as well as being a witness for our age, and striving to bring faith in line with the present age that has veered off into rampant secularism and materialism. He passionately encourages the reader to practice a deep, abiding Christian faith that seeks to be at the service of humanity.

As Joseph Ratzinger mentions in the preface, “the book presents in written form three sermons that the author preached in the Cathedral at Muenster to a congregation from the Catholic Student Chaplaincy, December 13-15, 1964.”

Ignatius Insight recently published an excerpt from the text: Why Do We Need Faith?.

And on a Lighter Note . . .

  • Baby Benedict is only 10 weeks old and already he’s received a special letter from the Pope The personalised note on Vatican headed-notepaper arrived on baby Benedict’s doorstep after officials in Rome learned the tot had been named after the Pope, with whom he also shares a birthday. Lancanshire Evening Post June 28, 2006.

  • “Suited Up”, by Michelle Arnold. Apparently radical Traditionalist site Tradition In Action has blown a gasket over a photograph of Then-Cardinal Ratzinger wearing a Suit. (TIC mistakes it for a recent photo of the Pope on vacation, while others have dated the photo to a retreat the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and his brother took together in 2004).

    Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia) comments on the photo of “The Brothers Ratzi”:

    More than anything, though, the shot underlines the strong bond the Pope enjoys with his one living relative, his older brother Msgr Georg Ratzinger. The two were ordained priests together in 1951, share a deep affinity for music (the Papstbruder served for many years as director of the famed choir of Regensburg Cathedral), and on next month’s Bavarian homecoming, little brother Joseph has blocked out a private day with Msgr Georg at the home the former built on a cul-de-sac, which then-Cardinal Ratzinger was anxiously looking forward to retiring to…. For those who’ve forgotten, everything porcelain and feline decorates the house in the Regensburg suburb of Pentling. (The other Ratzinger sibling, Maria, served as her brother’s housekeeper and companion until her death in 1991.)

  • A group of altar boys from the Bavarian city of Ratisbona are handing out the Pope’s favorite cookie in preparation for his September visit. During the Pope’s visit to Ratisbona on September 12, 15,000 altar boys from all of the dioceses in Bavaria will take part in the Papal Mass. (Catholic News Agency). Zenit News Service has also relayed what’s on the agenda for the Pope’s Bavarian trip, the fourth international trip of his pontificate, from Sept. 9-14.
  • Eggs Pope Benedict, by Jimmy Akin: “While wandering the Web sniffing out something to blog about, my nose latched onto an aroma of eggs. Curious, I checked it out. Apparently, in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s election, some people were having a bit of good-natured fun with the new pope’s chosen name.”
  • Nice shots of Pope Benedict playing the piano and writing in his study, courtesy of la Repubblica.it. According to Avvenire’s reporter, Salvatore Mazza, “the Pope sits at the piano at least twice a day — in the morning and the afternoon — and plays his favorite classical pieces.”
  • “When is a necklace not a necklace? Most likely when the Pope gives you one”, says Robert Duncan, responding to the Spanish Prime Minister’s office announcement that Pope Benedict XVI gave the wife of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero a “pearl necklace with a cross” after their meeting in Valencia.
  • Matthias Beier’s Pope Benedict XVI: The First Year (Tikkun, July 2006) gets the nomination for the most ridiculous appraisal of B16’s first year in office, beginning with a demand for the Pope to “put on the table” his title as Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church as a “true test for openeness to ecumenical dialogue.” Mr. Beir finds the Holy Father deficient on all counts — from his activity on “peace and justice issues” to interreligious dialogue to his “attitude towards Islam.”

    Even Benedict’s reminder to the European Union of its “indispensable Christian roots” is found to be “dangerously reminiscent of the Nazi Christian argument that Jews had no place in a Christian country such as Germany.” Beir ends his indictment with a demand that Benedict retract the claims of the “extremely inflammatory 2000 statement” Dominus Iesus and invite “Eugen Drewermann, Joan Chittester, Matthew Fox, Hans Kung, and Leonardo Boff, to a truly open dialogue.”

    Matthias Beir is a Methodist pastor and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Fordham University, and has recently published what he boasts is “a comprehensive analysis of a violent and fear-driven God-image in the heritage of the Judeo-Christian tradition from a theological, philosophical, and psychoanalytic perspective.” Nice ‘ecumenical’ spirit, his.

    While some Catholic readers will be prompted to wonder what he is doing teaching at a Jesuit school, Carl Olson (Insight Scoop) protests: “what is most bothersome to me is not that Beier teaches at Fordham, but that someone who demonstrates the rhetorical acumen of Howard Dean and the polemical touch of a Jack Chick teaches at a university.”

    Meanwhile, Gerald Augustinus (Closed Cafeteria) provides a fisking of Beier’s rant against the Pope.

  • Finally, from Ignatius Press, Pope Benedict XVI “Wallpaper” for your computer desktop.

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