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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005

April 25, 2005

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI last week, steps into the shoes of the greatest pontiff since the Middle Ages. The late John Paul II not only led the Catholic Church, his great heart and good works made him the most important spiritual leader on earth.

This is the ultimate hard act to follow, a hugely daunting challenge for a retiring, 78-year old scholar.

But Benedict XVI is the man to do it Ė provided his health holds up. The College of Cardinals wisely and swiftly chose precisely the right candidate to continue John Paulís conservative policies and keep the Mother Church from being torn apart by doctrinal rebellions and geographical or cultural divisions.

Ratzinger was John Paulís closest friend, collaborator, and confidant. In effect, he was longtime CEO to John Paulís Chairman. Who better to take the helm of the worldís oldest organization?

Any other choice risked being seen by the many Catholics who venerated John Paul as a saint as repudiation or dilution of his policies. The outpouring of emotion and fidelity over John Paulís death stunned even the Church and made any change of policy unacceptable. Pope Benedict underlined this point by appointing to senior positions prelates that were close to John Paul II.

The choice of Ratzinger was wise for another reason. The Churchís growth areas are Latin America and Africa, where ardent Catholics abound. The churchís main problems on both continents is the faith being mutated by local cults and customs.

In Europe, by contrast, Christianity is withering away. So the Churchís most urgent task was not to play to robust believers in the Americas or Africa by naming a pope from those regions, but dealing with the crisis of faith in increasingly apostate Europe, where church attendance has dropped to record lows and many Catholics are only observant at Christmas or baptisms. Itís no coincidence that Cardinal Ratzinger chose the name Benedict, the patron saint of Europe.

Once again, the German-born, highly intellectual Ratzinger is the right man for the right place. He will try to prevent further erosion of Catholicism in Europe by revitalizing the faith among its remaining adherents and continuing John Paulís remarkable dialogue with youth. To paraphrase Frederick the Great: he who believes in everything, believes in nothing. Better a smaller church of the truly faithful than one of Catholics in name only.

Europe should also consider Ratzingerís oft-derided strictures against birth control: the continentís population is aging fast and, in many cases, actually declining. One day soon, Europe(and Japan) will not have enough young people and must somehow promote births or be forced to import further millions of African and Asian workers .

Benedict is being warned by numerous anti-Muslim groups he must deal with the challenge of Islam. This is a red herring. The real challenges to the Church comes from within its own ranks: liberalism(make our own rules locally) and relativism (there is no absolute truth). Islam and Judaism face the same internal struggle.

In many ways, conservative Catholics have more in common with Orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims than liberal Catholics in Europe or the US.

Traditional Jews, Catholics and Muslims Ė Peoples of the Book, as Muslims say - favor large families led by strong fathers; reject women in the clergy; oppose homosexuality and birth control; and refuse to bend their faith to the social fashions of the time. An orthodox Jew should feel as much at home in a mosque as a conservative Muslim in a synagogue, and both easy in the company of conservative Catholics.

As John Paul made clear, it is not Islam that challenges Catholicism, but lack of spirituality, the rampant consumerism that has replaced faith; hedonism; the cult of selfish, instant self-satisfaction; and the foolish leftist dogma that men and women are intellectually and emotionally the same.

The real issue is not gay priests or Catholic voodoo rites. It is faith. If you want to be Catholic, act like one. Otherwise, join one of those generic, sunbelt drive-in religions where anything goes.

Ratzingerís age is a concern; so are his previous references to Catholicism as the only true religion. Now that he is pope, rather than Vatican Censor, Benedictís views will likely soften. He vows to carry on John Paulís ministry to all mankind.

But given his 78-years, Benedict XVIís reign will likely be short, an interregnum after John Paul the Great, and a gentle transition to altered policies brought in by a new, younger pope with less traditional ideas. For now, however, the Vaticanís message is steady as she goes.

Published at Bigeye.com since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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    Eric Margolis
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    The Toronto Sun
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    Toronto Ontario Canada
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