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The challenge facing Pope Benedict
Benedict XVI's first Encyclical confirms his outstanding capacity to put forward a Christian alternative to a culture which rejects moral absolutes and has elevated personal choice into primacy of conscience.
The core of the challenge he faces is that today, Catholics are more powerfully influenced by what they see on TV, hear on radio and read in newspapers and magazines, than they are by what he teaches. This certainly applies to lay people, probably to most priests and, one suspects, to many bishops.
John Paul II attempted to overcome the influence of the secular culture by speaking directly to the faithful, through an exhausting program of missionary journeys to every corner of the world, by-passing the filter of the mass media. His visits gave tremendous encouragement to the faithful, and gave the Church a moral authority which it had not had for many decades.
Unfortunately, he had little long-term impact on the beliefs and practices of the majority of Catholics who had drifted away from or abandoned the practice of the faith. Even for practising Catholics, what were once regarded as defining characteristics of believers - regular prayer and Confession - have largely disappeared.
Not surprisingly, as Archbishop Hickey observes (see page 7), the views of Catholics on moral issues are little different from those of the rest of society.
In human terms, it is not certain there is any solution to this problem; but if there is, it will depend on a rediscovery of the Church's teachings and faithful adherence to them. But this will not happen if there continues to be confusion about what the Church teaches and practises.
The challenge for Pope Benedict is to ensure that the Church's administration, from the Curia in the Vatican to local dioceses, and ultimately to each parish and school, is singing from the same hymnal.
Benedict XVI is well-placed to bring about this change. Before his election as Pope, he served for 23 years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. He is therefore far better placed to deal with the complexity of the Curia and reshape the Church's administration than John Paul II, who became Pope in 1978 after being Archbishop of Krakow in Poland.
We must pray for Benedict in the difficult times which lie ahead.
Peter Westmore is the Publisher of AD2000.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 19 No 2 (March 2006), p. 2
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