Monday, December 27, 2010

Cuddling the ‘Rottweiler’ (Contrbuton)

It was not an easy year for Benedict XVI; it is probably never an easy year for a pope, anyway. 

The Church’s role in society, problems being faced by Christian minorities in several countries, the threat of secularism, and the scourge of child abuse by clergymen were among the biggest challenges Pope Benedict faced.

During the year, the 83-year-old pontiff made five foreign trips (including one to Malta), issued documents on the Bible and new evangelisation, convened a two-week Synod of Bishops of the Middle East, and discussed a wide range of topics in a book-length interview.

The place of religion in society is, undoubtedly, one of the main themes of the Pope’s speeches. 

His visit to the UK was characterised by the content of his address to the representatives of British society including the diplomatic corps, politicians, academics and business leaders. 

He spoke about religion’s corrective role, that is, to help purify and shed light on the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.

In a recent speech to Italy’s ambassador to the Vatican the Pope emphasised the responsibility governments bear in safeguarding religious expression. 

He said the contribution of Christians to society in general is so significant that civil authorities should realise that social progress cannot go forward if religion or its expression is sidelined.

This was the year when the Pope had to carry the cross of child abuse by clerics as no pope before him has had to carry it. 

Though no one more than he has aggressively combated this scandal, no one more than he was continuously accused of doing too little, too late about it.

He did so with dignity and Christian witness. 

In a letter to the Irish faithful in March, he personally apologised to victims of such abuse. 

He promulgated stronger Vatican measures to deal with abusive priests, some of which he had instigated years earlier as a cardinal.

When he recently addressed officials of the Roman Curia he said that in response to the “unimaginable” scandal of clerical sex abuse against minors, the Church must reflect, repent, and do everything possible to rectify the injustices suffered by victims as it works to prevent such abuse from ever happening again.

The suffering of Christians, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, was always high in the Pope’s agenda. 

The two-week Synod of the Bishops of the Middle East is an example. 

Last week I wrote about the Catholic community in Iraq, which the Pope defended several times during 2010.

He and his aides also spoke frequently on the need to defend Christian minorities from discrimination and physical attacks in places such as India, Pakistan and Indonesia.

Pope Benedict is also critical of secularised societies that have pushed religion out of the public eye, following a false ideal of secularism or individual freedom. 

“A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others,” the Pope writes.

“It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike, in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity,” Pope Benedict argues.

Some of the toughest language of the papal message is directed at Western democracies.

He expresses the hope that “in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians”.

However, despite the Rottweiler image he had been framed in, the sexual abuse scandal that he had to face, and the frequent (sometimes completely avoidable) controversies, more and more people are warming to Pope Benedict. 

The Times (of London) wrote about him: “We all want to cuddle up to him and get him to bless our babies.”