A church’s assertive shift toward tradition
Pope Benedict XVI consolidates sweeping changes, reasserting the spiritual supremacy of the Vatican.
By Robert Marquand | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Rome and Paris
The leader of 1.1 billion Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI, is completing a significant theological shift of the Roman Catholic church – a sweeping change that not only eclipses 40 years of a more moderate and collegial Catholicism, but seeks to reassert the spiritual supremacy of the Vatican and more openly proclaim the authority of the office of pope among all Christians. Some two years after taking the reins, say Protestant and Catholic theologians and religious experts, the Bavarian-born pope is moving swiftly to affirm orthodox doctrines and medieval church rituals that undermine the spirit of Vatican II, a period of modernization in which the church appeared to be rethinking its centuries-long insistence that it had exclusive claims to matters of grace, truth, salvation, and church structure in the Christian world.
Liberal Catholics go so far as to characterize Benedict as leading a counterreformation in the church – in which fervent backers of traditional Catholic identity and faith are favored, even at the expense of popularity. “While Vatican II said that the Holy Spirit was in operation among the people, now we are saying, no, the holy spirit is operating in the bishops. It is an enormous change.” says Frank Flinn, author of the “Encyclopedia of Catholicism.” The “impression [previous Pope] John Paul II gave was to emphasize teaching so that all may be one. But Benedict is turning around and saying to churches, ‘you aren’t all one.’ It is destroying the ecumenical movement.”