In the summer of 1996, I became interested in Catholicism. After returning to Dundee for my second year at university, I developed that interest further by attending the student Catholic Society. My reading continued, and in the course of it, I learnt about Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the “panzer kardinal” who headed the Catholic Church’s fearsome Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
In due course – Easter, 1997, to be exact – I was received into the Church. Before long, I was helping to serve at Mass at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. One day, I was in the sacristy with the diocese’s then Bishop, Vincent Logan. I can’t remember how we got on to the subject, but I must have told him I had been reading about Ratzinger, and that he sounded like a scary man. The bishop smiled and said words to the effect that the cardinal’s reputation was ill deserved. He’s a very gentle man, he said, very kind. This stuck with me, and so I was not surprised when I read similar sentiments after Ratzinger became Benedict XVI in 2005.
Benedict resigned from the papacy in 2013 but thanks to many of his actions was pope, my reading of earlier years, Bishop Vincent’s comments, and those of other people, he never disappeared from my consciousness. Thus, when his death was announced yesterday morning, I was not surprised, but I was sad. It’s a funny thing to be sad about the death of someone you have never met, and never would had he lived to be five hundred, but I was and remain sad at the fact that he is no longer with us. I think it’s because Benedict, simply by his being alive, was a rock (pun intended) on which we Catholics could tie our faith.
That’s a funny thing, too, because I by no means agree with everything Benedict did, either as pope or as Cardinal Ratzinger. I think his opposition to Liberation Theology was exactly right, as was his decision to grant freer access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, but regret his classification of homosexuality (in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) as an intrinsic disorder, and failure to ask more questions about what it means to love, how to love, and be loved. I believe the Church is on a journey here, one that will see future popes (perhaps having started already with Pope Francis) coming to understand that men who love men, or women who love women, are also acting in accordance with God’s plan, rather than deviating from it.
So, I didn’t agree with Benedict about everything, and he did make mistakes over the years. But that’s life. The important thing is that he tried. He had his eyes on Jesus all the time, and he tried. I have no doubt that when he fell over, he got up, returned his gaze to the Lord once again, and continued walking. For that reason, he was holy. One day, I hope this will be recognised and that he will be declared a Saint. For my part, I’m not going to wait for the declaration to be made. I’m going to start asking him for his intercession now.
Pope Benedict – pray for us