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Issue Date:  May 26, 2006

The Making of the Pope by Andrew Greeley THE MAKING OF THE POPE 2005
by Andrew Greeley
Little, Brown 254 pages, $23.95
by Robert Blair Kaiser
Knoff, 261 pages, $25.95
Assessing the election of Benedict XVI


“Few Catholics, even the ‘good’ ones, listen to the Vatican or take it seriously” is vintage Greeley. Of course, some would say that few Catholics listen to Fr. Greeley or take him seriously. Even he admits that most of his fellow priests don’t like him. He claims that they disapprove of his agitation over the church’s abuse crisis. Maybe they just don’t like a sociologist-turned-novelist who isn’t regularly serving in a parish as they are. However, like him or not, Andrew Greeley has something worthwhile to say in The Making of the Pope 2005, and ignoring his voice means refusing to hear the facts. Some readers will remember this book’s predecessor, The Making of the Popes 1978, in which there were two conclaves and lots of intrigue upon which to speculate. The election of Benedict proved less dramatic but equally unpredictable since even Fr. Greeley thought Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s chances were slim to none.

However, Fr. Greeley’s book is as much about regretting lost opportunities as it is about chronicling a papal election. In the immediate post-Vatican II church, his assessment is succinct: “The leadership blew it.” Here, the sociologist revisits some old data demonstrating how Catholics rejected the church’s teaching on birth control. He also introduces recent data that tells how most contemporary Catholics reject other teachings similarly connected to sexuality (for example, only 18 percent disapprove of premarital sex, compared to 40 percent 30 years ago). With his usual candor, he is neither shy about placing blame nor soft with his rhetoric. Thus, Fr. Greeley states, “The curia lives in a dream world, a world of fiction, indeed of fantasy fiction,” and, “It would be a terrible sign to the world if a well-known heresy hunter [Cardinal Ratzinger] ended up as pope.”

For Fr. Greeley, the real problem with the hierarchy and Benedict XVI is the rejection of the principles and effects of Vatican II. In this assessment, he has a kindred spirit in Robert Kaiser. Both of their books on the 2005 conclave are about who the authors wanted to be pope, not who would be the pope. Cardinal Ratzinger was not their choice, not because of who he is but because of what they say he represents -- a hierarchical, non-collegial, pre-Vatican II ecclesiology. Mr. Kaiser labels cardinals who resisted Vatican II at the time of the council as the “no-change party.” The “change party,” including John XXIII, wanted reform. They won the battle at Vatican II but have since lost the war.

After a brief review of John Paul II’s death and legacy and the current political context, Mr. Kaiser views events through the lens provided by six cardinals: Roger Mahony (United States), Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (England), Maradiaga Rodriguez (Honduras), Francis Arinze (Nigeria), Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja (Indonesia), and Joseph Ratzinger (Germany). Each is careful in speaking before the conclave and, in the end, like the author who interviews them, they do not know who will be the next pope either, even though they will be voting in the election.

Both Mr. Kaiser’s book and Fr. Greeley’s book are ideologically driven. While each chronicles the transition from John Paul II to Benedict XVI, neither does so objectively but instead projects the author’s own views on the process. Sometimes this gets out of hand, as when Mr. Kaiser opines that John Paul II “probably died in the early afternoon on Saturday, April 2, but it is likely that the pope’s Polish handlers held back the news for more than six hours until an expected crowd … could gather in St. Peter’s Square.” At other times, the authors’ statements are conciliatory, as when Fr. Greeley laments, “Personally, I’d be dismayed if Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger … is the next pope.” But he also concedes, “Nonetheless, if he is, he must be treated with the respect to which a pope is entitled.”

The details of who got how many votes on what ballot are in the end irrelevant. What both authors lament is the loss of collegiality in the church: Cardinals don’t know each other well, the pope does not listen to the bishops, and the bishops do not consult the laity. Power is concentrated in Rome in the person of the pope. In other words, the hope and promise of a more democratic church that Vatican II signaled have been all but lost. And this is regrettable. Benedict XVI, as a peritus, participated in the council and helped to shape a church that listens to and learns from the contemporary world. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he tightened the hierarchical church’s control on theological thought, and as Benedict XVI neither author believes that he will listen to the laity (or those who report on the laity’s concerns), leaving Fr. Greeley and Mr. Kaiser as observers and commentators rather than consultants.

Within days of his election as pope, Benedict XVI reassured Vatican officials and the faithful that he would continue to carry out the reforms initiated by Vatican II. In Benedict’s first homily, he confirmed to the cardinals his “determination to continue to put the Second Vatican Council into practice.” Some observers interpreted Benedict’s words as a genuine commitment to the vision of Vatican II. Others interpreted them as a way to preempt those who might call for a Vatican III.

Depending upon the length of this papacy, the next conclave does not look any more likely to elect a candidate with the view that the church should return to the immediate post-Vatican II days of experimentation and change, never mind entertaining the idea that it would benefit from a Vatican III. This realization probably disappoints the authors, as it does a good many Catholics. However, as these authors know, many conservative Catholics delight in this papacy and believe that liberals like Fr. Greeley and Mr. Kaiser pine for the bygone days of the papacy of John XXIII in vain. However, there may be a growing number of Catholics who could not care less who occupies the chair of Peter, and this is a problem that should concern everyone who cares about the church, including the sociologist, the journalist, the parish priest and the pope.

Chester Gillis is chairman of theology department at Georgetown University.

National Catholic Reporter, May 26, 2006

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