Anyone who has watched Discovery Channel
documentaries remembers the scene. A sick lion staggers painfully to the muddy
edge of the waterhole, hardly able to crawl. Hyenas circle round and round,
waiting… Sorry, that’s rather tactless, but the analogy is inescapable. With
headlines proclaiming that Pope Benedict’s papacy is mortally wounded, his foes
are being quoted everywhere. It is their last chance to reshape the Catholic

Here’s Rev Fr Hans Küng writing on April 1 about
the crisis in the New
York Review of Books Blog
: “The same frankness at long last being applied
to the cases of abuse themselves must also be permitted in discussion of one of
their essential structural causes: the rule of celibacy.” And here’s James
Carroll, dramatist, novelist, Boston
Globe columnist
and ex-priest on April 5: priests and lay people must defy their
“Rome-obsessed bishops” and rescue “the Catholic Church from its
fundamentalists, including the present pope”.

This week the German
news magazine Der Spiegel
wrote an obituary of Benedict’s papacy: “after
five years in office, Benedict has seen his project fail and himself become a
spiritual shepherd lost in a world that no longer understands him. The secular
world now views the pope with, at best, indifference, if not downright

Of course, any life
narrative can be retold in unflattering terms. There’s Mother Teresa, that
masochistic old bag lady. There’s Nelson Mandela, that womanising, murderous,
economically illiterate Communist. Der Spiegel’s patronising essay basically
vents the spleen of dissident Swiss and German theologians.

Its unctuous critique
is basically this: Benedict has failed to follow Der Spiegel’s own agenda for the
Catholic Church (my summary):

He has failed to allow
the ordination of women
He has failed to liberalize theology
He has failed to approve contraception
He has failed to understand homosexuality
He has failed to trust technology and modern culture.
He has failed to dialogue with Protestants, Muslims and Jews.

Curiously, Sandro
Magister, the doyen of Italian Vaticanologists
, takes the same facts today in L’espresso and
constructs an entirely different picture of Benedict’s papacy.

Relations with Muslims: “With Benedict XVI,
the dialogue between Christianity and Islam, as with the other religions as
well, is today proceeding with clearer awareness about what makes distinctions,
by virtue of faith, and what can unite, the natural law written by God in the
heart of every man.”

Modern culture: “Benedict XVI is a great ‘illuminist’
in an age in which the truth has so few admirers and doubt is in command, to
the point of wanting to silence the truth.”

Ecumenism: “Since Ratzinger has been pope,
the journey of reconciliation with the Eastern Churches has taken extraordinary
steps forward. Both with the Byzantine Churches that look to the ecumenical
patriarchate of Constantinople, and – most surprisingly – with the patriarchate
of Moscow.”

Relations with Jews: “ no other pope before
him ever went so far in defining a positive vision of the relationship between
Christianity and Judaism, while leaving intact the essential division over
whether or not Jesus is the Son of God.”

Sex abuse scandal
: “the accusation is
against the very man who has done more than anyone, in the Church hierarchy, to
heal this scandal.”

Are we talking about the same guy? Magister
wraps up his article with some insightful words:

Why is this pope so under attack, from
outside of the Church but also from within, in spite of his clear innocence
with respect to the accusations? The beginning of an answer is that he is
systematically attacked precisely for what he does, for what he says, for what
he is.

The most unconvincing part of the German magazinel’s
critique is its assessment of how the folks in the pews feel about their “Holy
Father”. In its air-conditioned offices in Hamburg perhaps hyenas are heroes
and not lions. But if it were to poll the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, and
not just the Der Spiegel cafeteria, Benedict XVI would win hands down. Hard to prove? Just
remember World Youth Day in Sydney. Just check out World Youth Day in Madrid.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.