Now's the time to start making educated guesses about what our new Holy Father will be up to during his (I pray) long and prosperous reign. His first address as Pope
is now out, and one thing we can say is that the man is politic. He's managed to give some people the impression that he won't be such a hard-liner as is feared by the softies. In some respects this may be plausible, but more careful attention to his words gives me a somewhat different impression.
First, he invokes the spirit of John Paul II, a fitting thing that reassures us of the basic continuity he will preserve in his pontificate. Next, he turns to the nature of his authority:
In choosing me as Bishop of Rome, the Lord has desired me to be his Vicar, he has desired me to be the "rock" on which all can lean with security. I ask him to make up for the poverty of my strength, so that I will be a courageous and faithful Shepherd of his flock, always docile to the inspirations of his Spirit. . . .
To you, Lord Cardinals, with a grateful spirit for the trust shown to me, I ask that you support me with prayer and with constant, active and wise collaboration. I ask also all brothers in the episcopate to be by my side with prayer and counsel, so that I can truly be "Servus servorum Dei." As Peter and the other apostles constituted, by the will of the Lord, a unique Apostolic College, in the same way the Successor of Peter and the bishops, successors of the apostles, must be very closely united among themselves, as the Council confirmed forcefully (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 22).
He is aware of the challenge of his authority and his need for support, but also of the strength and importance of that authority and the responsibility of the Bishops to unite under him. Expect him to expect that of them.
Now, what is his top priority in wielding authority?
I have before me, in particular, the testimony of Pope John Paul II. He has left a more courageous, free and young Church. A Church that, according to his teaching and example, looks with serenity to the past and has no fear of the future. She was led into the new millennium with the Great Jubilee, carrying in her hands the Gospel, applied to the present world through the authoritative rereading of the Second Vatican Council. Pope John Paul II indicated the Council precisely as a "compass" with which to orient oneself in the vast ocean of the third millennium (cf. apostolic letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," Nos. 57-58). In his spiritual testament he noted: "I am convinced that the new generations will still be able to draw for a long time from the riches that this council of the 20th century has lavished on us" (17.III.2000).
Apparently, the status of Vatican II is primary for him. How does he read this issue?
Therefore, in preparing myself also for the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, I wish to affirm strongly my determination to continue the commitment to implement the Second Vatican Council, in the footsteps of my Predecessors and in faithful continuity with the 2,000-year tradition of the Church.
Here I think subtleties are very important. For John Paul II, on this account, the Council was something still being worked out and to be worked out into the unforseeable future. This showed his discontent with the liberal distortions of it that have plagued the Church since the 60s, but also left things relatively open-ended.
Benedict is aiming at greater precision. He is going to execute
(literal translation of the Latin
) Vatican II, and while he does not fail to refer (somewhat vaguely) to the execution of his predecessors, he lays the stress on Tradition as the key to -- perhaps finally? -- deciding what the Council entails. I guarantee this will be nothing like what most of its loudest proponents think the Council said (or should have said) . . . .
Like what, for instance?
How very significant it is that my pontificate begins while the Church is living the special Year dedicated to the Eucharist. How can one not perceive in this providential coincidence an element that must characterize the ministry to which I have been called? The Eucharist, heart of Christian life and source of the evangelizing mission of the Church, cannot but constitute the permanent center and the source of the Petrine service that has been entrusted to me. . . .
In this year, therefore, the solemnity of Corpus Domini must be celebrated with particular prominence. The Eucharist will be at the center, in August, of the World Youth Day in Cologne and, in October, of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the theme: "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church." I ask all to intensify over the next months their love and devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist and to express in a courageous and clear way their faith in the Lord's real presence, above all through the solemnity and correctness of the celebrations.
I ask this in a special way of priests, whom I am thinking of at this moment with great affection. . . .
Ha! At leaast no one can tell us the Pope doesn't have a sense of humor!
Clearly, the Eucharist will be a top priority for him, not just this year but for years to come. And that means liturgical reform, to recapture "the solemnity and correctness of the celebrations". How beautiful, and this is his first order of business! I can almost convince myself that his repeated use of the word "center" foreshadows some shifting of the Tabernacles to come . . . ;)
Finally, there is another huge issue dangling from Vatican II, ecuminism:
Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel stimulated to tend to that full unity that Christ so ardently desired in the Cenacle. The Successor of Peter knows that he must take charge in an altogether particular way, of this supreme longing of the divine Teacher. To him in fact has been entrusted the task of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32).
Fully conscious, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome, which Peter bathed with his blood, his present Successor aims, as a primary commitment, to work without sparing energies for the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ. This is his ambition, this is his imperative duty. He is aware that for this, manifestations of good sentiments are not enough. There must be concrete gestures that penetrate spirits and move consciences, leading each one to that interior conversion that is the presupposition of all progress on the path of ecumenism.
There is a very obvious implication here of the supremacy and pastoral duty the Pope possesses not only over Catholics, but over all Christians. While speaking in a relatively gentle way about this, notice the emphasis on the word "conversion". Not your usual ecumenical lingo, eh?
The Church of today must revive in herself consciousness of the task to propose again to the world the voice of him who said: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). In undertaking his ministry, the new Pope knows that his task is to make the light of Christ shine before the men and women of today, not his own light but that of Christ.
This tone is consistent in all his words: he will set an example for all men of all faiths and those without faith of fidelity to Christ and obedience to His will, not his own. That will be the unifying theme of Papacy, both internally (reform toward orthodoxy) and externally (a light to the world, not a handkerchief).
As others have noted, this does not put him at odds with John Paul II -- in fact, I suspect it is what our late Holy Father wanted in his successor -- but it continues the latter's legacy with a distinct focus of energy.