Allen wrote this five years ago, but the publisher (Continuum) threw a new cover and title on it ("Pope Benedict XVI").
Allen is CNN's Vatican analyst and the senior Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, a far left outfit (pro-gay ordination and marriage, pro-birth control, no loyalty oaths for Catholic clergy and teachers, clergy marriage, etc.).
Allen starts off gracious and even-handed. But once past the pleasantries, he constructs a relentlessly negative attack on Ratzinger. Everything is painted very black and white, with Ratzinger playing the role of Darth Vader. Interestingly, Allen himself publicly repented of his unjust approach shortly after the book appeared, but the publisher would not allow him to make revisions or write a new preface (that costs money, and might not as neatly correspond to Continuum's view of the Universe, where people like Ratzinger suffocate puppies and cut down trees and hate women).
So Allen is writing a new bio., which is b supposed to be just as liberal, but a lot fairer to Ratzinger.
There are a few challenges to pinning down Ratzinger's precise views. For the last twenty-plus years Ratzinger has spoken as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he the coordinator of a large working group.
A few tidbits:
* His parents were named Joseph and Mary.
* On the Hitler Youth thing: Allen makes much of the fact that Ratzinger's father did not joined any armed uprising against Hitler and get martyred, and that Ratzinger's scant memories of certain Hitler atrocities local to his Bavaria are improbable. But clearly - Ratzinger's dad was very anti-Hitler. Ratzinger (18 at the time the War ended) was drafted into the Hitler Youth late, and doesn't seem to have participated in meetings at all.
* His favorite theologians: Augustine, Bonaventure, Guardini (quite liberal), von Balthazar (portrayed as right-wing, but essentially a Catholic Barthian). Allen portrays Ratzinger's preference for Augustine to the detriment of Aquinas as a horror, because of Augustine's alleged grim view of human nature. See pp. 3, 35-42.
* Ratzinger believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesial totalitarianism. He believes the Catholic Church serves the cause of human freedom by restricting freedom in its internal life, thereby remaining clear about what it teaches and believes. (pp. 3ff.) (Personal note - I think ecclesiastical totalitarianism, when we have approached it in history, is generally just as repressive and evil as its political counterpart, but sometimes I think it still should be the goal anyway. I think an evil, repressive church may in some way be a burden we are called to endure in our cross-bearing. The Christian [and OT] Church has always done more evil than good in the world, but it did this to our Savior too, and maybe its God's plan that we endure it to learn what it means to be in Christ. Let's stop pretending, however, that the Church is good for the world - the Democrats, homosexuals, etc. are not hallucinating; we do hurt them and each other. The Lion's Club does not treat their members, and outsiders, anywhere near as poorly as we often do.)
* Allen asserts that Ratzinger is politically conservative, but gives no evidence for it other than Ratz.'s social conservativism. His former boss, Pope JPII, was socially conservative but fiscally liberal. Pope JPII's anti-Communism was matched by equal anti-Capitalism.
* Long section on his great-uncle Georg Ratz. - fierce critic of the `ultra-montanism' (strong papal authority) our Ratzinger now advocates, anti-Semite, excommunicated progressive, etc. He was born 85 years before Joseph.
* Nice portrait of the four Bavarian towns in which Ratz. grew up. Shocking the extreme government regimentation - couldn't do even minor work on your home without a permit, could not fish, plant a garden etc. "Such regimentation helps explain why most Germans after 1933 did not feel themselves to be living in a totalitarian state, as the level of government intrusion in their lives was not much different from the time before Hitler came to power." (p. 11). Shocking to hear such a political liberal admit this.
* Beautiful section on Ratz falling in love with the drama of the liturgy as a child (p. 13).
* Got from Guardini the conviction of the Church as `Mystical Body' (I thought that was Paul, I Cor. 12, no?). Guardini saw it as a model navigating between two extremes: the Catholic Neo-Scholastic definition of the Church in purely institutional terms and the liberal Protestant Congregationalist understanding of the Church as social contract. The Vatican II Young Turk progressives (that Ratzinger was a prominent part of) all embraced this model. But they took it in two different directions. More on that in a bit.
* Both Balthasar and Rahner agreed that the old two-story model of nature and grace, which saw grace as `added on' by God to nature, was insufficient. Rahner saw God as the driving force inside all nature. But Balthasar argued for an analogy of being in which human beings share a common ground with God but remain distinct.
* Balthasar cautioned against the obsession with the historical Jesus, warning against becoming a Jesus-ian instead of a Christ-ian.
* Balthasar's favorite theologian - Origen (yuck). Ratz disagrees.
* Back to Vatican II. Allen notes that Ratz was among the young progressives there, along with Rahner, Congar, Kung, Schillebeeckx. After getting his appointment at the University from the extraordinary efforts of his friend Kung (whom Ratz later prosecuted and had silenced!), Ratz made a turn to the right in the aftermath of some radical student protests in 1968-9. These protests were blasphemous and Marxist, yet were supported by most Catholic clergy and faculty.
* Allen argues that there were germs of his conservativism in his Vatican II and pre-1968/9 self. At Vatican II there were two allied but distinct impulses of reform present. The liberal `aggiornamento' was a drive to modernize the Church and conform it to cultural standards. The conservative `ressourcement' was also progressive but it was a call to reform the Church by `returning to the sources' (Bible and Church Fathers). (see p. 57). It seems to me that these two impulses roughly correspond to our Protestant liberal and neo-orthodox trends of the 1920s-60s. Ratz was more ressourcement than aggiomento.
* In 1972 the split in the young progressive camp was formalized by Ratz, du Lubac, Walter Kasper, Karl Lehmann, and Balthasar's break from their fellow young Turks in founding Communio, a competing journal to the Concilium that Ratz helped found with Kung, Rahner, Metz, etc. (pp. 84, 91).
* Allen's crypto-animosity for Ratz peeks out for a second in the 2nd paragraph of p. 91 and other places where he assumes evil motives for Ratz's theology - that the change of heart is about his personal grab for power and not sincere theological development.
* Ratz thinks rationalist Adolf von Harnack and existist. Bultmann are the two cornerstones of flawed modern Christology (read more p. 96).
* Ratz loves Augustine's quote "Inasmuch as anyone loves Christ's Church, to that degree he possesses the Holy Spirit." (p.99). I love that quote and have used it a lot too. It is convicting.
* "Ratz says a recovery of Platonic/Augustinian emphasis on individual salvation is a necessary corrective to the corporate and social eschatologies. Here Ratz mentions liberation theology by name...." (p. 101).
* Ratz the teacher: reported that local German townsfolk would go top Ratz's early morning theology lectures at the university on their way to work. He spoke as a priest first, and a prof. second. (p. 103).
* When Ratz switched universities his grad students would go with him. In Germany loyalties are to the prof not the university.
* All Ratz's ex-buddies who he later persecuted on behalf of the Vatican-- turns out they are kind of jerks (though Allen minimizes this). Rahner, for example, made no effort to reconcile with Ratz before his death in 1984; Kung publicly (in print) compared Ratz and the Congregation to the Inquisition and the KGB (p. 126).
* Kung traveled as far left after Vatican II as Ratz traveled right. Somehow Allen thinks Ratz's drift right is inexcusable, but Kung's equal drift left is a sign of his intellectual growth and honesty.
* Ratz "The Christian believer is a simple person: bishops should protect the faith of these little people against the power of intellectuals." (p. 130). YES.
* In the late 60s arch-liberationist heretic Leonardo Boff was aided by Ratz, who helped him get his first publisher. (p. 138).
* Great, concise critique of Gutierrez and liberation theology in general by Ratz in 1983, p. 153. As good as Ronald Nash, in two paragraphs.
* Notre Dame comes off as way to the left of Ratz, which surprised me.
* The section on studies of gay clergy pp. 198ff. is SHOCKING. The frankness with which some of the gay priests troll for sex partners is staggering. We all know 20-40% of Catholic clergy have gay inclinations, but the descriptions of their acting on that is tragic.
* According to quotes Allen provides, Ratz. Believes that people of other faiths can be saved on the basis of their good works pleasing God. (p. 218, for example). Allen, of course, does not think Ratz goes far enough on this.
* Allen consistently paints Ratz as more conservative than Pope JPII.
* Ratz think Neo-Scholasticism that has dominated the Catholic Church lends itself to a too Western view of the world, and that we need more Eastern (Orthodox) influences. (p.226).
* Protestant ecumenism? The Catholic Church, of course, says Protestants are separated brethren. But when a Protestant wishes to become Catholic he must be re-baptized, and clergy must be re-ordained (meaning our sacraments and ordinances are invalid), though the reverse is not true where Catholics become, say Presbyterian. Leo XIII said Anglican ordination is `absolutely null and utterly void." Anyway, Ratz has read lots of Luther (p. 231) and is friends with Lutheran Pannenberg, When asked about the prospects for unity with the Lutheran Church he said "As soon as there is A Lutheran church, we can discuss it."
* Long before the Passion film, Ratz wisely said to Jews "all sinners (not just Jews) are the authors of Christ's passion." (p. 250). I'd go further and as a Calvinist say `all believers who have sinned are the only ones who sent him to the Cross." Further, he reminds Jews (who unlike Christians have no doctrine of forgiving the unrepentant), that "Jesus blood raises no calls for retaliation but calls all to reconciliation."
* Ratz believes Christianity fulfills Judaism (p. 250). He raised controversy by saying, on the eve of a major Jewish-Catholic dialogue meeting in 1987, that Jews could be fully true to their heritage only by becoming Christian (p. 251). The meeting was canceled in protest.
* Pope JPII said to a meeting of Muslims "Your god and ours is the same." (p.252). But Ratz warns that Muslims see the Christian West as very weak, and that at its core Islam is undemocratic. The implication: Islam then will use democracy in the West to gain power, but once in power will abandon democracy.
* Allen think Ratz's stance can be summarized by an obsession with Rom. 12:2 "not being conformed to the spirit of this age." (p. 262).
* Ratz doesn't like Kant's numenal / phenomenal distinction (p. 263).
* Sometimes Allen's facts seem questionable. Was it 163 theologians (p. 282), or 130 (p. 283) who signed the protest against the Pope in 1989?
* The Matthew Fox case shows how radically at odds Allen's vision for the Church is with Ratz's. Allen celebrates Fox's New Age heresy as fresh investigation. (pp. 287ff.). Fox, of course, proves part of Ratz's point about him when in 1992 he publicly protests the Vatican's decision on him in a schismatic fashion. Allen misses the irony of these protests (Kung, Rahner, etc.) every time. Its somehow OK for theologians and priests to publicly attack their church, its bishops, its popes, but its not OK for those popes to render sober judgments against these rebels. Then again, this is the spirit of the age: people in the church don't see much wrong with a parishioner writing a libelous letter about the session or pastor and circulizing it to everyone, but they are shocked and want explanations when a session disciplines a wayward parishioner. I don't get it. Radical democracy? Class wars?
* Ratz thinks in `centuries." He's not worried sp much about winning today's battles, as he is being faithful to the unchanging deposit of faith and setting the church on the right trajectory for the future. (p. 293).
* Next conclave: now in the past. Publisher should have cut this chapter if they were going to re-title it for his ascension to the throne of Peter. Allen predicts there is no way Ratz will ever be Pope.