The New Pope
Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
God always blesses His Church with the type of leader it needs at each time in
history. That was true with John Paul II, and it is true with Benedict XVI, formerly
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His role as the head of the Church's doctrinal office,
the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, may seem to some a far cry
from what he now has to do as the Universal Pastor of the Church. Some see
enforcing doctrinal orthodoxy as perhaps in tension with reaching out, as the Vicar
of Christ, to unite and welcome all humanity into the arms of the loving Savior.
But the roles are closer to each other than one may think. In fact, they are aspects
of one another, because compassion is not opposed to truth, nor is truth opposed to
compassion. It is only when one presents the truth, in all its fullness, vigor, and
clarity, that one can be pastoral. To "shepherd" the flock includes shepherding
them into the truth, and Cardinal Ratzinger has had a special gift for precisely that.
In particular, one of his key gifts is to articulate the fact that there is such a thing
as truth. To give a modern answer to the culture's echo of Pilate's question, "What
is truth?" is a key demand of the papal office in our day. To tell the culture that
there is a right and wrong, and we can know it, is a key demand of compassion, a
requirement of being a Good Shepherd. To remind people that we are capable of
discerning what is good for humanity and what is destructive, what constitutes
respect for life, what the gift of marriage and family really are, and what love is,
becomes a service and a blessing to our generation. Truth and compassion are two
sides of the same coin.
That includes the truth about the relationship between the Church and politics.
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, "The Church must make claims and demands on public
law and cannot simply retreat into the private sphere." He said that the
fundamental political task of the Church is to make sure that the state has a
conscience. "Where the Church itself becomes the state freedom becomes lost. But
also when the Church is done away with as a public and publicly relevant
authority, then too freedom is extinguished, because there the state once again
claims completely for itself the jurisdiction of morality." (Ratzinger: Church,
Ecumenism, and Politics, 1988).
At the special Consistory of Cardinals called together in 1991 by Pope John Paul
II to address the critical challenges to the sanctity of human life in the world, the
future Pope Benedict XVI made a comprehensive report in which he applied this
Church-State theme to the right to life: "...[A] State which arrogates to itself the
prerogative of defining which human beings are or are not the subject of rights,
and which consequently grants to some the power to violate others' fundamental
right to life, contradicts the democratic ideal to which it continues to appeal and
undermines the very foundations on which it is built. By allowing the rights of the
weakest to be violated, the State also allows the law of force to prevail over the
force of law. One sees, then, that the idea of an absolute tolerance of freedom of
choice for some destroys the very foundation of a just mode of social life. The
separation of politics from any natural content of law, which is the inalienable
patrimony of everyone's moral conscience, deprives social life of its ethical
substance and leaves it defenseless before the will of the strongest."
We at Priests for Life rejoice in the election of Pope Benedict XVI. He will be a
blessing for the pro-life movement, and for all people who find comfort that there
is such a thing as truth, particularly the truth that life is sacred.
For more about the new Pope and his past writings, go to
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