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Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith Hardcover – 1 Nov 2000

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.0 out of 5 stars 7 reviews
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Allen Himself Now Sees Flaws 27 April 2005
By dumbox1 - Published on
Format: Hardcover
To his credit, John Allen has acknowledged the flaws in his biography of Cardinal Ratzinger. In a 2004 lecture at Catholic University, and again in his "Word from Rome" column on 4/26/05 (shortly after Ratzinger's election as Pope Benedict XVI), Mr. Allen noted that he was greatly affected by a negative review of the book by Fr. Joseph Komonchak in Commonweal magazine. Fr. Komonchak's review made Mr. Allen realize that he "was locked in a dualistic mentality in which Ratzinger was consistently wrong and his critics consistently right.... The book - which I modestly believe is not without its merits - is nevertheless too often written in a 'good guys and bad guys' style that vilifies the cardinal."

Mr. Allen is currently working on a new book on Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, which he says he hopes "will be a more balanced and mature account of both Ratzinger's views and the politics that made him pope." As I've become a great fan of Mr. Allen's journalistic work in recent years, I'm confident that his new book will live up to those hopes, and far exceed this one in quality and balance.
37 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read overall. 25 Jan. 2001
By Christopher Blosser - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Given the scathing reviews Allen's book has recieved by vehement critics, one would get the impression that he has nothing at all positive to say about Ratzinger. On the contrary, Allen believes Ratzinger "is not the vengeful, power-obsessed old man who lurks like a bogyman in the imaginations of the Catholic left". With regard to Ratzinger's thought, Allen finds that his "arguments are more than ex post facto rationalizations for exercises of authority" and speaks of "a deep, logical consistency to [his] vision". Indeed, Allen is so impressed with Ratzinger that he exclaims "in the unlikely event I ever had access to Ratzinger as a personal confesser, I would not hesitate to open my heart to him, so convinced I am of the clarity of his insight, his integrity, and his commitment to the priesthood" -- sentiments which might be denounced as treasonous or dismissed as insane by some on the Catholic left. (Picture a conservative saying the same claim about Hans Kung).
Allen's prevalently liberal audience will be reassured by the fact that his praises for Ratzinger as a person fail to carry over to Ratzinger's role as doctrinal prefect. One doesn't have to read far to note that on every issue from contraception to women's ordination to liberation theology he comes down squarely opposed, and remains just as steadfast in his convictions as the cardinal is in his.
There are many aspects about John Allen's book with which I disagree. Granted, we could expect something of a much different tone had this been written by one of Ratzinger's ardent supporters (Father Joseph Fessio or Cardinal Schonborn). Nevertheless, I believe we should respect Allen's account for what it is: an honest (and so far as I have noticed, unparalleled) attempt by a liberal Catholic to appreciate the person and thought of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. (No doubt others will disagree with my impression -- I say read the book and judge for yourself).
Finally, two poignant observations by John, L. Allen himself:
"Reaction to Ratzinger is often uncritical, driven more by emotion and instinct than sober reflection. Progressives do not read his books, they disregard his public statements, and they assume every position he takes is based on power politics. Conservatives revere most of what he says as holy writ, often spouting mindlessly without penetrating to the principle or value he seeks at stake. Neither response takes Ratzinger seriously.
* * *
The problem with political arguments in contemporary Catholicism is that too often the disagreeing parties talk past one another, having very little intellectual common ground upon which to base the discussion. . . . Neither is willing to spend the intellectual effort to understand the concerns that drive their thoughts, the arguments that have led them to the conclusions they hold, the alternatives they have considered and rejected."
This is certainly advice which any Catholic, regardless of his personal and ideological convictions, can take to heart and follow.
23 of 34 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Somewhat Wandering Account 18 Dec. 2000
By Mr Pat Hynes - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book in the hope that I would obtain a clearer understanding of Cardinal Ratzinger in terms of his role and significance during the last twenty years. However I have to say that while there is lots of information in this book along with stories and anecdotes, it fails to deliver in terms of a substantive analysis of the church since vatican II and where the church will be as we move further into this the 21st century. At the conclusion of the book Allen hinges his critical description of the Cardinal in terms of the next conclave including a list of reasons why Ratzinger will not be Pope. If that is not enough he then goes further to sujest that in the event that he is wrong and Ratzinger does become Pope all of the difficulties he would envisage with such a papacy. The issues which he attampts to examine are far to complex in nature to be benchmarked of nothing other than his own futuristic and prophetic beliefs. Sorry to be so negetive.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Useful facts, lots of hostility 5 Sept. 2007
By Pedro E. Martinez - Published on
Format: Hardcover
John Allen's shows his hostility toward Ratzinger in his choice of verbs and adjectives to describe what Ratzinger has done to preserve Catholic ortodoxy. Mr. Allen would have a Catholicism where everyone thinks and does as they please, and still be in good terms with the Church. However, I still managed to finish the book and to leave it with an increased admiration for the current pope. On the plus side, Mr. Allen does provide useful summaries of the theological views of those whom then-Cardinal Ratzinger opposed, as well as some of his reasons for doing so. But the way he finishes the section on Other Religions ("What is at stake"), implies that Ratzinger's views have contributed to the civil wars that- like Kosovo and Northern Ireland- are fought under the disguise of being religiously motivated. Suggesting that Ratzinger's work has contributed to those conflicts is completelely over the top and inflammatory, not to say untrue.
28 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even Handed Study of a Controvertial Figure 31 Jan. 2002
By C. Roussel - Published on
Format: Hardcover
John Allen is to be commended for his biography of Cardinal Ratzinger. It is difficult to write objectively about living, controvertial figures and even more so in the case of powerful religious figures. Emotions can run high, even to the boiling point. Some readers might expect a "hatchet job" of the Prefect of the CDF by a writer for the "National Catholic Reporter", which is a prominently liberal newspaper, but only someone blinded by partisanship could consider this carefully researched and written book to be anything but thoughtful and even handed.
Allen read all of Ratzinger's works and many collateral books and conducted dozens of interviews in preparation for this study. He is at present NCR's resident editor in Rome. Allen is also an unusually well-read and well-informed practicing Catholic who genuinely tries to understand the points of view of his subjects. He raises difficult questions, as is his proper role, and, in my opinion, sometimes gives Ratzinger the benefit of the doubt when a sterner view would be justified but he provides a tremendous amount of valuable information and references so the reader can do his or her own research. This is the mark of a serious biographer and not a polemicist.
John Allen's "Cardinal Ratzinger" is an important and scholarly contribution to our understanding of this powerful figure in the present-day Catholic hierarchy. It deserves to be read.
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