Catholicism expert R. Scott Appleby says the new Pope will
likely keep enforcing orthodoxy, leading to possible "winnowing" in the U.S.
R. Scott Appleby is a professor of American religious history and director of
the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of
Notre Dame. The author of numerous books and articles on Catholic modernism,
Appleby is general editor of the Cornell University Press series, Cushwa Center
Studies of Catholicism in Twentieth Century America.
On Apr. 20, in a conversation with
BusinessWeek Special Correspondent
Therese Palmer, Appleby offered his perspective
on Pope Benedict XVI, his role as guardian of orthodoxy under John Paul II, and
his relationship with the U.S. Church. Edited excerpts of their conversation
Q: For some liberal American Catholics, why do you think this is their worst
nightmare come true?
A: Pope Benedict XVI has a reputation, built over many years, for cracking
down on what he would call theological dissent -- but what they would call
healthy theological pluralism within Catholicism.
Q: Do you think he has the capacity to change now that he isn't the Prefect
of the Congregation for Doctrine?
A: In his former capacity, Ratzinger was required to draw sharp lines around
Catholic orthodoxy and underscore the traditional teaching of the Church.
However, I'm less inclined to believe he will relax this vigilance as Pope
because he brought profound theological convictions to the job of "enforcer of
orthodoxy." He wasn't merely a watchdog. He was a leading theologian who helped
define the meaning of Catholic teaching.
He was a theologian with well-defined critiques of secularism and unhealthy
laxity of behavior on moral precepts. The U.S. is case No. 1 in his book with
respect to "lax behavior" or disobedience to Church teaching on matters like
Q: Is the Vatican hierarchy and election of a Pope outdated for the modern
democratic world? In the last 300 years, there has been increased emphasis on
personal freedom exercised in a participatory democracy instead of historical
obedience to one Pope or one king.
A: Cardinal Ratzinger has indicated that certain forms of democracy can
promote relativism, an attitude that effectively denies the certainty of
absolute truth. As the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, he has warned repeatedly that relativism can be a byproduct of democracy.
The new Pope will likely be critical of certain aspects of American Catholic
practice, as was Pope John Paul II, who demanded obedience to certain teachings
and didn't get it.
Q: You have said the choice of Cardinal Ratzinger could lead to a "winnowing"
of the American church. Why do you think that?
A: The controversy over denying Communion to politicians who are pro-choice
or who are divorced and remarried outside the Church is an example of possible
If it's true Pope Benedict XVI prefers a leaner, smaller, purer church as he has
spoken of before, we could see a withering of certain Catholic institutions
because they're not considered fully Catholic. This might include Catholic
colleges, hospitals, and other Catholic institutions.
In his role as Prefect, he determined who could and could not speak as a
Catholic theologian. As Pope, that power could be extended more broadly.
Q: Where does this leave liberal American Catholics?
A: It leaves them both concerned and hopeful. The concern is that the man
who has become Pope not continue to play the narrower role he was required to
enact in his previous office.
The hope is that his intellect and his ability to adapt to the new office will
lead to a papacy that's in true dialogue with the Church -- the believers -- as
well as the world.
Q: Why would the Cardinals chose a man like this, given all of the apparent
problems the Church faces?
A: There are three possible reasons. First, they wanted to send a clear
signal that there won't be any fundamental changes in the doctrine and moral
teaching of the Church. Those who expect some liberalization or adaptation to
the modern world should abandon those expectations.
Second, it demonstrates continuity with the papacy of John Paul II, whom
Cardinal Ratzinger served long and loyally.
[The third possibility is] they elected Cardinal Ratzinger to demonstrate
strength in the areas where John Paul II was weak: Primarily in the internal
administration of the Church and in managing the Curia and appointment of
bishops. These are areas where Ratzinger will bring great expertise and