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 Joseph Cardinal 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 www.priestsforlife.org
Fr. Pavone is the Founding Director of Priests for Life. You may contact Priests for Life at PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314; Tel: 888-PFL-3448 or 718-980-4400; Fax: 718-980-6515; Email: email@example.com; Website: www.priestsforlife.org.