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Posted November 17, 2005

Book: Pope Benedict XVI: A Personal Portrait
Author: H.J. Fischer
Crossroad Publication, NY, 2005, pp. 213

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

For the first time in a quarter century, the world has a new pope. While people around the world struggle to understand the brilliant but enigmatic Joseph Ratzinger, Heinz-Joachim Fischer offers us this first-hand account of the Pope’s astonishing life and ministry: from his early days in Germany to his meteoric rise as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, confidant of Pope John Paul II, and the first pope of the 21st Century.

Dr. Fischer is the ideal biographer of the new Pope. As a theologically trained journalist, a friend of Ratazinger, and the 25-year Vatican correspondent for Germany’s leading daily newspaper, Fischer understands the life and work of this complex church leader as well as the challenges and questions that confront Benedict XVI in his new role.

An Excerpt from the Book:

As cardinal, Ratzinger reflected uneasily on this dichotomy in modern Catholics; as pope, Benedict opens wide his arms and proclaims that these are his flock, whom he and the other shepherds must feed. They are perfectly normal people whom we could call the new Catholics, who are devoted to the church. “New,” because after the birth pangs of recent decades, they are displaying and practicing a new form of Catholicism.

They embody the wonderful image of the church as the “pilgrim people of God,” evoked by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council, as they throng to Rome from north and south, east and west. We no longer see a church that is a rigid hierarchical pyramid, with the ministries of pope and bishop cemented firmly in place, with some who are higher in rank and some who are lower. What we see now is a fellowship of equals, endowed with the universal priesthood, each one raised up by sharing in the common holiness of God’s people, as the New Testament teaches.

This powerful image of the “people of God” had led since the Council — comparable in its eruptive power to the cultural revolution of 1968 — to far-reaching demands for a “democratization” that would alter the church’s fellowship under the pope. But the new Catholics are astonishingly untouched by all the reforming proposals that envisage an ecclesiastical democracy. Not that they despise the blessings of democracy in political life! It simply seems that they are consistently uninterested in changing the structures of the church to reassign authority and responsibility.

This is because they see their church not primarily as a laboratory for the construction of new formulas of the faith or as a context for experimenting with democratic processes where opinion is formed and power shared in a manner parallel to [only more loving than] secular society. They do not feel the Roman magisterium or the teaching office of the local bishops as a yoke imposed on them. They do not feel the need to protest against this painful yoke in the name of their own reflections on the faith and their moral decisions. Rather, the church’s teaching is North Star to guide them on their way, an anchor that holds them fast in the waves of life.

In all this, the elite among the new Catholics are perfectly well aware of the theological and moral problems. These problems lose some of their acuteness, however, when the Roman path to a solution is experienced as better than that offered by other Christian churches. Another factor is the ability of ecclesiastical Catholicism — celebrated with pomp in Rome in a setting of high cultural value — to concentrate the eyes of the participant on what is truly essential and to permit people to genuinely enter the religious sphere. It seems that these believers hold that there is something more important in their life of faith than democratic rules and liberal opportunities. They appear to be “postliberals”“ it is as if the debates in church and society in nineteenth- and twentieth- century Europe are largely irrelevant to or inconclusive for their own future in the wide world, whether they live in Africa or in Hollywood, in South America or Dallas.

Table of Contents:

Returning to Bavaria

The Call to Rome

Time of Transition

Pope Benedict XVI


A word from the publisher