Comes now the disharmonious chorus to sing of the elevation of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy as Benedict XVI.
Some, most, sing with soaring, rapturous hosannas. Others, in key sophisticated and solipsistic circles, rejoice with all the enthusiasm of a boy told to kiss his sister.
The latter group, largely European and to a lesser extent American, is citing Ratzinger's brief compelled membership in the Hitler Youth as an indicator he is a secret Nazi sympathizer - "God's rottweiler."
German theologian Hans Kung, censured by the Vatican when the former cardinal was John Paul's principal doctrinal dialectician, launches the assault on Ratzinger from another angle: "His ideology is a medieval, anti-Reformation, anti-modern paradigm of the church and the papacy." The editor of an Italian Catholic lay newsletter echoes Kung, contending that - together - John Paul and Ratzinger created a "medieval atmosphere" hopelessly out of touch with contemporary reality.
The clear implication is that thanks largely to Ratzinger, with the late pope's by-your-leave, everything in the Vatican is about as up-to-date as it was in the Kansas City heralded in "Oklahoma!" The argument implicitly extends to the entire House of Cardinals, which in about 24 hours mustered a two-thirds vote for Ratzinger - who at 78, seemingly senile in this global hour of the young, becomes the oldest pope elected in two centuries.
(Perhaps those complaining that the House of Cardinals does not know what it is doing, should be asked to weigh its assembled opinion against the oh-so-distinguished, and ever-so-with-it United States Senate. There, senators find themselves unable to demonstrate their ability to mount a two-thirds - or even a majority - vote for certain nominations to the federal bench because they cannot wrest those nominations from a covetous committee.)
What is it about Ratzinger? He harbors the same views as the late John Paul. He intends his papacy as an extension of John Paul's.
The day before his election, Ratzinger delivered a homily to the conclave wherein he warned against deviation from traditional Catholic teaching. He said:
"(The church has been shaken by) numerous ideological currents. The boat has been unanchored by these waves, thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, up to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and on and on. An adult faith does not follow the waves of fashion and the latest novelty."
"A dictatorship of relativism is being built that recognizes nothing as definite, and which leaves as the ultimate measure only one's ego and desires."
"Having a clear faith, according to the credo of the church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. Yet relativism - that is, letting oneself be carried here and there by any wind of doctrine - appears as the sole attitude good enough for modern times."
The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things, termed it all "vintage Ratzinger - calm, deliberate, precise, incisive." John Paul's biographer George Weigel said of the election of Ratzinger, "the most respected of their number":
"This was not only a tremendous affirmation of (John Paul's papacy), it was a vote of confidence in Joseph Ratzinger as the man best fitted to give an evangelical thrust to this papacy, a new dynamism in the first decade of the 21st century."
In Europe and America, mainline Catholicism and Protestantism are suffering hugely - Protestantism probably more than Catholicism. One does not have to be a Catholic (as your correspondent is not) to acknowledge the pre-eminence of Roman Catholicism, notably under John Paul II, as a force for good matched only by the United States.
Both Catholicism (through priestly pederasty) and, e.g., Episcopalianism, have been roiled by homosexuality, within and without. Too often, and for too long, too many in the clergy of both have embraced precisely the fads and fallacies and ideologies - from relativism to collectivism to meism- cited by the new pope. Both have become infected to greater or lesser degrees with a nowist sophomorism grounded more in the latest sociopolitical notions than in permanent things.
The developments implicit in this modernism have emptied churches across Europe and thinned populations in pews across America. If not winding up on golf courses of a Sunday morning, distressed or angered parishioners are moving to evangelical, Pentecostal churches. These churches, and some boast astounding numbers, are where Christianity is seeing its growth - here, in Europe, and throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America.
It would make more sense for the critics of Benedict XVI (and of John Paul II) to lament their European heritage than their doctrinal adherence, for doctrinal adherence - the explication and application of standards regarding good and evil, right and wrong - is the fundamental appeal of Christianity, its essence where it is most strong.
Yet as with the late Polish pope, so with the new German one: He is that seeming anomaly, a European who comprehends that the reasons for the enervation of Catholicism in now sophisticated precincts go to the heart of Catholicism's (and Protestantism's) muscular appeal in those areas where it is least relativistic and most evangelical.
And so Benedict XVI may prove to be for the Catholic church - and broadly for Christianity itself - not God's rottweiler, as the meanest of his critics would have him, but God's good German shepherd.