Religion & Liberty Online

Looking Back: Acton Experts on Benedict XVI’s Election

Benedict XVI has resigned, effective February 28, 2013.On April 19, 2005, Joseph Ratzinger was elected to become the next Pope after John Paul II. Several Acton Institute analysts wrote articles looking ahead to what kind of papacy the world could expect from Benedict XVI. Take a look and let us know how we did. (We’ve added links where they are still available).

Alejandro Chafuen, a member of the Acton Institute’s board of directors, wrote a piece on April 20, 2005, titled, “Benedict XVI: A defender of personal freedom” for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He said:

Benedict XVI argues that freedom, coupled with consciousness and love, comprise the essence of being. With freedom comes an incalculability – and thus the world can never be reduced to mathematical logic. In his view, where the particular is more important than the universal, “the person, the unique and unrepeatable, is at the same time the ultimate and highest thing. In such view of the world, the person is not just an individual; a reproduction arising from the diffusion of the idea into matter, but rather, precisely, a “person.”

According to Benedict XVI, the Greeks saw human beings as mere individuals, subject to the polis (citystate). Christianity, however, sees man as a person more than an individual. This passage from individual to the person is what led the change from antiquity to Christianity. Or, as the cardinal put it, “from Plato to faith.”

As a Roman Catholic, I and many others are already deeply grateful to Ratzinger and his teachings on creative freedom, that characteristic mark of the “infinity-related” human person. We can be sure that the newest pope will continue the legacyof John Paul II, placing freedom and dignity at the core of his teachings.

Kevin Schmiesing, a research fellow for the Acton Institute, wrote “New pope starts debate on direction of Catholic Church” for the Detroit News on April 20, 2005. He said:

…Benedict, like John Paul, is no reactionary. He is a champion of Vatican II, in the same way that his predecessor was — that is, of the true spirit of Vatican II, which engages the modern world with the perennial truths of the Gospel, rather than capitulating to modern trends and thereby emptying the faith of the bracing vision of human dignity and salvation that it has to offer.

The discomfort of some liberal academics in Europe and the United States notwithstanding, Ratzinger is widely respected as a theologian, both inside and outside the Catholic Church. His expertise ranges from systematic theology to Scripture; his commentary on Genesis was published by Grand Rapids-based William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., a premier American evangelical press.

During a public discussion in late 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger called for a revival of “moral reason.” The fall of communism, he noted, created a “void” that must be filled by agreement on sets of moral standards so freedom is not used in ways that damage human dignity.

“Faith can help one find it,” he said, “but it does not depend on it.”

The BBC put together Viewpoints: Pope Benedict XVI on April 22, 2005, and included the expert opinion of the Acton Institute’s director of research, Samuel Gregg:

Pope Benedict XVI will continue the authentic interpretation of Vatican II that John Paul pioneered. There will be a clear, strong intellectual proposition in defence of Catholic orthodoxy. There will be an attention to the Christian unity that can only be founded upon the truth and there will be a continued critique of moral relativism and the type of secular fundamentalism that we find rearing its head in the EU and the UN.

I think there is going to be a particular attention to culture. The name Benedict is very revealing. Many people regard St Benedict as very much the saviour of Western civilization as a consequence of the Barbarian invasions that were happening just as the Roman Empire was collapsing. So, I think culture will be a priority.

On April 23, 2005, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, wrote a piece for the Washington Times called, “Outside View: True Liberalism.” He said this about Pope Benedict XVI:

We have already heard a thousand times or more that the new pope is a conservative. As counterintuitive as this may sound, I believe that insofar as the new papacy has implications for economics and politics, it is in the direction of a humane and unifying liberalism. I speak not of liberalism as we know it now, which is bound up with state management and democratic relativism, but liberalism of an older variety that placed it hopes in society, faith and freedom.

Mostly, Ratzinger has written in defense of authentic freedom. He has written of the “real gift of freedom that Christian faith has brought into the world. It was the first to break the identification of state and religion and thus to remove from the state its claim to totality; by differentiating faith from the sphere of the state it gave man the right to keep secluded and reserved his or her own being with God … Freedom of conscience is the core of all freedom.” (Freedom and Constraint in the Church, 1981)

Here is the voice of a true liberal. Long live Benedict XVI.

For current information about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, visit our resource page.