Monday, June 18, 2012

Maybe He Never Really Wanted the Job?

Read of the day for me so far is this superb piece from Der Spiegel on (sorry, I can't help myself) der Pope, Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, Papa Ratzi.   Surprising to me--but perhaps I haven't been paying attention--in that it describes a guy seems never to have really wanted the job in the first place, and seems to be wishing every moment he could figure a way out of it now. That's the trouble with being Pope, they say, you can't retire.

Surprising to me, I say. I had the impression of the incumbent as a focused hard-liner who would pull down the columns in support of his agenda. Maybe he once had some such fantasy, but if der Spiegel is right, he seems never to have had stomach for the kind of slash-and-gab organizational intrigue that such an agenda would require.  Bonus points for this anecdote:
For a long time, Ratzinger himself could hardly believe he was suddenly the leader of all Catholics. More than a month after his election, on May 24, 2005, he paid another visit to the place in the Vatican where so many things had begun for him: the seminary in the Campo Santo Teutonico, a green island in the cramped papal state, directly adjacent to the sacristy of St. Peter's Basilica.

He had lived here during the Church's sweeping modernization effort known as Vatican II and, in 1982, he returned to Rome from Munich, staying "in a room with only the bare necessities around me so that I could make a fresh start."

Ratzinger remained loyal to the seminary community until he was elected pope.  . . . He hasn't been to the seminary since his last visit, in late May 2005, which lasted over an hour. In parting, Ratzinger signed the guestbook. He wrote "Benedict XVI" and then, leaving a small space, scribbled "pope." At first he wrote it with a lower-case p, but then he changed it to an upper-case one.

None of his predecessors had ever signed anything like that -- and Benedict himself would never do it again. It was almost as if he had to tell himself: My God, I'm the pope.
It happens I was in Firenze the night the bells rang out to announce his election ("habemas papam!").  I was walking back to my apartment from an internet cafe.  I remember wondering what the new guy might be thinking (at that point, I didn't know his identity).  Maybe he was wondering, too. Recall the ancient Buddhist prayer (which, I think, I made up): I hope you get what you wish for, and I hope you still want it once you get it.

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