The New Pope

R. Scott Appleby

John M. Regan Jr. Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and Professor of History at University of Notre Dame

Interviewed by Micaela Cayton Garrido, 2005

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

I'm not so sure I would say Pope Benedict XVI is much more conservative than Pope John Paul II. They're both conservative, the question is, how are they conservative? How do they express that? And the former Cardinal Ratzinger, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, not Pope Benedict XVI, his job was to be the prefect of the congregation of the doctrine of the faith. The job description is: keep people in line theologically. And so it was in his job description to draw boundaries theologically and to reinforce the traditional teachings of the church. His own personal inclination and lifelong journey led him to embrace that job with a certain vigor. He's a formidable intellectual with his own nuanced profound way of thinking.

But on the question of peace and justice, on certain theological matters, some Catholics, myself included, took a deep breath when he was elected because he had been pretty restrictive and intolerant of dissent or even healthy discussion of some matters within the Church, and wants to seem to close off discussion too quickly, with the implication that this is an infallible teaching that we can't discuss. It's an authoritative teaching - that worried many people, myself included.

However, on the questions of peace and justice, like John Paul II, Benedict XVI has been very courageous and open and positive in the sense that he was very much opposed to the war in Iraq. He joined with John Paul II in developing Catholic ethics for the greater openness toward nonviolence, as equally strong in the tradition, or approaching that equal strength, with the Just War ethic. And this has opened a big debate within Catholicism about teaching about war and peace in the tradition. Whereas people thirty years ago thought they knew that the Catholic tradition was pretty much a realist tradition, that is, it recognized the right of states to go to war under certain conditions, that right has been questioned. There's something of a neo-conservative side of Catholicism that wants to push that right further and say, pre-emptive war is part of what today's just war doctrine should look like. People should be able to go after the terrorists, like the US, like Bush wants to do, before they attack us. So they say.

But there are other voices that can also appeal to Pope John Paul II and to Benedict XVI in their writings, and appeal to those in opposition to the pre-emptive war, in opposition to the war in Iraq, citing a preference for nonviolence. This is not a capitulation to injustice or tyrants, but it is a greater caution on war making. So Benedict XVI in this regard is an interesting and promising intellectual figure and leader. So we have to wait and see, we have to see how he evolves and develops now that his job is not to be the doctrinal watchdog but to be the supreme teacher and pastor of a billion plus Catholics around the world.