A very intriguing piece by Politico’s David Gibson in the Washington Post Sunday Outlook section claims, much as I argued in a column back in August (but in greater depth), that Pope Benedict XVI is engaged in a sweeping campaign to remake the church. In large part what he’s trying to do is to roll back some of the reforms of Vatican II and make Catholicism what it once was, at least as he remembers it.
Thus far, Benedict’s papacy has been one of constant movement and change, the sort of dynamic that liberal Catholics — or Protestants — are usually criticized for pursuing. In Benedict’s case, this liberalism serves a conservative agenda. But his activism should not be surprising: As a sharp critic of the reforms of Vatican II, Ratzinger has long pushed for what he calls a “reform of the reform” to correct what he considers the excesses or abuses of the time.
Gibson sees the latest big-ticket change, inviting conservative Anglicans and Episcopalians into the Catholic church, as part of his overall strategy. It’s frankly a bit hard to see this particular reform as conservative; after all, he’s letting Anglican priests join with their wives, which theoretically opens the door to letting other priests marry. The bottom line, though, seems to be shoring up the church’s conservative wing by bringing in a whole new constituency. Some of the other changes we’ve noted, including the restoration in various places of prayers for conversion of the Jews, are part of this overall Ratzinger plan, Gibson writes. Worth a look.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).