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