Italian journalist Luigi Accattoli has an an interesting piece, "La solitudine di Ratzinger" in Liberal (3 March).
The great Fabrizio has done a translation, which I touched here and there.
Pope Ratzinger’s solitude
Dear editor-in-chief, this is the right week to wonder about Pope Benedict’s future, since he’s having a week of rest from the relentless public activity for Spiritual Exercises of Lent. His tomorrows are made of a packed schedule: he’s preparing his travel to the Holy Land, rewriting his encyclical on social doctrine from scratch, he’s extremely busy recovering Lefebvrians. These are three courageous deeds he undertakes as a solo voyage with the boldness of a soloist pope.
I call him a “soloist” as a homage to his passion for music but also because the definition of “solitary” is not suitable for a Pope. He dines alone often and spends lengthy hours studying and reflecting. In today’s Vatican there is no longer that special Polish court of friends working as a buffer between the Pope and the Curia, which characterized Pope Wojtyla’s pontificate and somewhat helped him to bear the solitude of the Supreme Keys. From the point of view of the Papal daily schedule we’re back to the sober routine of few qualified friends admitted, as was for Paul VI and the love for prayerful and reflective reservedness of Pius XII
Of course Benedict doesn’t lacks curial company but it must be said that he – despite the longest curial experience a pope ever did as a cardinal: no less than 23 years - he doesn’t rely much on his staff. He sends for them when needed, but he tends to tackle the issues he perceives as decisive personally.
To get to the point we can say with enough confidence that he is truly alone – both as a feeling and in reality – before those three challenges we mentioned above – the mission to the Holy Land, the encyclical and the Lefebvrians – just as he chose to be alone in the past, when he had to face the problem of Islam, the tragedy of pedophile priests and the current one of negation of the Shoah. You could say that in those three instances he benefited from his solitude and one can only wish that the same happens with the new issues awaiting him right beyond the corner. We know that prior to the day he delivered it no one of his aides had read the Regensburg lecture – with which he posed the problem of violence in Islam without diplomatic precautions. In equal solitude – during the visits to the USA and Australia last may and June – he stated that he felt “ashamed” for the counter-witness of pedophile priests. Alone did he come to decide to lift the excommunication of the four Lefebvrian bishops, thus find himself to face – in solitude – the storm from within and from without that followed.
He was then intrepidly alone in his choice to schedule the trip to the Holy Land for the half of may, having it announced when there was still no new government (as there isn’t one yet) in Israel, with the Palestinian territories in a complete mayhem and a situation of war more than peace in the whole Middle East. Nobody doubts Pope Wojtyla was a bold man – even a gutsy one – yet he didn’t dare visit the Holy Land until he got a green light by a Barak administration totally in control of the situation and an Arafat who was about – or so we all believed – to proclaim the Palestinian state.
Yet an even greater boldness must be seen in his intention to publish a social encyclical as soon as possible – next spring or summer. It was ready by last summer, but the Pope is now rewriting it to consider the economic crisis becoming rampant worldwide. Benedict is actually not alone on this one. As a matter of fact the idea of the encyclical didn’t even start as his own, but had come from the inputs of the pre-conclave and then was presented again by the offices of the Curia to honor the forty anniversary of Paul VI’s Populorum progressio (1967). The theologian-pope grew fond of this encyclical he was working on as the crisis was beginning to unfold. Last October 6 he made to know that he was pondering the crisis like a theologian, at the opening of the Synod of Bishops when – commenting on Psalm 118 « your Word is as stable as the heavens ») he contrasted the divine “stability” to the uncertainty of fortune based on money: “We can see this now with the fall of large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing.” He touched again on this subject last Thursday in a conversation with Rome’s parish priests and disclosed the difficulties he finds himself in to craft a document of social Magisterium in the uncertainty of all things.
“We have been long working on an encyclical on these matters” he said, confessing how it “difficult” it can be to speak of the problem “with competence” and at the same time “with a great ethical awareness”. The difficulty lies in denouncing “courageously, but also concretely” the “fundamental errors that revealed themselves in the fall of large American banks” and in indicating what to do “concretely” to “change the situation. It’s about denouncing no less than an economy founded on the “rule of egoism” – another expression of his – and indicating the way to get out of that and do it today, while nobody knows where the crisis will lead us and what kind of world will result from it! Never before had the social Magisterium of the Church run such a great risk, that of speaking amid the storm.
A Pope who decides alone and tackles great challenges without rhetoric runs this risk. If he relied on his aides, they would talk him out of exposing himself just like they tried to keep him form the travel to the Holy Land. So far his unarmed method has helped him score good points on various fronts. It’s the advantage of a soloist Pope who deals with piano scores never seen before by inviting the faithful to pray “that I may not flee for fear of the wolves” as he said in the Mass for the opening of the Pontificate.