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Assessing Benedict XVI's First Year

Interview With Vatican-watcher Andrea Tornielli

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2006 (Zenit) - This Wednesday will mark the first anniversary of the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.

In this interview with us, Andrea Tornielli, a Vatican-watcher for the newspaper Il Giornale, and author of "Benedict XVI, Custodian of the Faith," assesses the first year of this pontificate.

Q: What are the main differences between the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI?

Tornielli: There are objective differences, due to age and formation. Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope at 78, and Karol Wojtyla at 58. Ratzinger is a theologian who had lived in the Curia for 23 years, and Wojtyla a philosopher who came from a diocese.

The difference that most impresses me is Benedict XVI's attempt to make the light of Christ shine; not the Pope's light, as he said the day after his election, in his message delivered before imparting the blessing "urbi et orbi" [to the city of Rome and the world], read in the Sistine Chapel.

This means reducing the Pope's public appearances, for example, no longer presiding at beatifications and, above all, introducing a practice such as Eucharistic adoration at the end of important celebrations, as occurred, for example, on World Youth Day.

Benedict XVI has also changed the manner of governing the Curia: He personally studies all the dossiers of the episcopal appointments. He has reintroduced the meetings with heads of dicasteries to discuss topics that especially concern him.

Sometimes he deals directly with congregations, which have recovered their roles, without going through the Secretariat of State.

Wojtyla spoke more with gestures, Ratzinger with words. Wojtyla was more communicative, Ratzinger more restrained. Wojtyla was more projected in a global dimension. Ratzinger seems to look more toward Europe and the risk that it might lose its identity.

However, from the doctrinal point of view, there is absolute continuity.

Q: What will be the essential lines of Benedict XVI's pontificate?

Tornielli: I believe they are the proclamation of the Christian faith as an event of salvation and not as a series of dogmas, moral norms, prohibitions and rites. We saw it in Cologne last year. The outstanding item is joy, of which the new Pope speaks continually.

Christianity is an encounter with beauty, it is the possibility of a more authentic, more beautiful, more exciting life. A Christian doesn't reject anything of what is really human; he does not have to give something up, but finds a fuller life.

Q: In this connection, how do you assess the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est"?

Tornielli: It has been an exceptional beginning. Many of those who wished to "recruit" Benedict XVI, to make him a symbol of political projects oriented to reaffirming Europe's identity, erecting walls against Islam, were expecting a programmatic encyclical against relativism or in favor of Christian identity.

On the contrary, the Pope surprised everyone by speaking of the love of God. Love and mercy are the other side of the word joy.

Q: How will the governance of the Curia change?

Tornielli: He has said it and written about it on several occasions: The Roman Curia has become too large and is too bureaucratized. There are bodies that have to publish documents to justify their existence and, in this way, the mountain of paper grows. "The Word was made paper," says a joke that may be applied to the Church of our day.

Benedict XVI, who in a television interview announced that he doesn't want to write many documents, believing that his task is to assimilate his predecessor's magisterium, did not publish this year the "Letter to Priests on the Occasion of Holy Thursday" and yet, he has begun to restructure the Curia, uniting two pontifical councils.

I imagine that he will continue to streamline to free energies that are not used well, and above all to make a "lighter" and more functional Roman Curia.


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