Mahony Says the World Soon Will See Pontiff’s Pastoral Side

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Times Staff Writer

It was an odd pairing: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s watchdog of orthodoxy, sat down for breakfast Tuesday next to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, one of the most progressive U.S. prelates.

Given their sometimes conflicting approaches, the two men might not have ended up next to each other had a protocol officer been present. But Mahony said in an interview that he came away from the encounter -- and from two days of secret meetings in the Sistine Chapel -- convinced that Ratzinger would show a far more pastoral side of himself as pope than he had in his years as enforcer of doctrine.

“I think what you’re going to see and hear is a very pastoral, spiritual dimension,” Mahony said. “Remember, he’s no longer the chief theologian of the church in that same sense.... He is the chief theologian as being pope.”


Ratzinger’s choice of the name Benedict XVI, Mahony said, is an indication that promoting peace in the world and reconciliation among peoples and faiths will be priorities.

After Ratzinger was elected, Mahony said, the new pope was asked what name he had chosen.

“He said, ‘I’m going to take Benedict XVI,’ but then went on to explain why, which is very interesting,” Mahony said.

His first reason was that his namesake, Pope Benedict XV, reigned from 1914 to 1922 during World War I. “It was the worst scourge of war ever known on the face of the Earth” at the time, Mahony said.

“So he said we still need to be working at peacemaking, reconciliation and harmony around the world,” Mahony said.

The second reason offered by Ratzinger was that St. Benedict, who founded the Benedictine Order, said that “Jesus Christ is first and foremost. Everything else is secondary. [Ratzinger] said those are the reasons [he] chose the name.”

At breakfast Tuesday, Mahony said, Ratzinger inquired about the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as well as those of the other prelates present.


“He’s someone that you could walk into a Starbucks [with] and sit down and have a coffee with and be totally at ease,” Mahony said. “He’s just delightful.”

Two days ago, in a Sunday homily at St. Peter’s Basilica, Ratzinger had sharply denounced what he called a “dictatorship of relativism.” He spoke out against radical individualism, atheism, shallow mysticism and “libertinism.”

Mahony would be unlikely to support any of the social phenomena denounced by Ratzinger.

But the Los Angeles prelate has said the church should at least talk about ordaining married men, and has complained about the centralization of power in the Vatican under the late Pope John Paul II.

Mahony acknowledged that Ratzinger had a reputation as uncompromising when it came to adherence to church doctrine. “Everyone who’s a public figure in some way always carries a reputation or baggage,” Mahony said.

The Los Angeles cardinal said the “spiritual, pastoral side” of the new pope could be revealed to the world as soon as Sunday, when he is to give his first homily as the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

“He’s obviously an extremely intelligent man, renowned theologian, an author who has written books and articles,” Mahony said. “His spiritual writings you never hear about, but I think you’re going to see a lot of that now with him as pope.”


Catholic churches in the United States are grappling with a number of issues, including a shortage of priests, concerns about centralization of authority at the Vatican, proposals to ordain women, and a priest sexual abuse scandal. Asked which issues the new pope might address, Mahony did not give a direct answer.

He said the problems facing the church in the U.S. were not always the problems faced by the church in other parts of the world, particularly developing countries.

“We, as American Catholics, have to be a little bit more patient, and we have to know the rest of the church better,” he said. “We really are isolated.”

Asked whether he expected the pope to give local dioceses more leeway in addressing local problems, a position which Mahony endorsed as recently as two weeks ago, he said he thought Benedict would consult with bishops and be “very helpful.”

For more than two decades, it was Ratzinger’s role to quell dissent in the church, and he silenced a number of theologians who challenged the Vatican.

But Mahony said Ratzinger liked “to listen to other points of view. That’s the role of a theologian -- to hear other points of view. Those don’t frighten him or turn him off.”


Mahony added: “As a good theologian, if he disagrees with you, he does so in a very pleasant way.”

Throughout the two-day conclave, Mahony said, he and other cardinals were moved by the fact that they were participating in a historic event in the dramatic setting of the Sistine Chapel, adorned with paintings of damnation and salvation by Michelangelo, including the “Last Judgment.”

“I kept looking up at all the paintings, at Michelangelo’s works, and thought, the only thing that stayed the same in this room is everything that Michelangelo painted here.”

He said that as he and others studied the artworks, it occurred to them that the message of the paintings was timeless and as relevant in the 21st century as they were when they were made in the 16th century.

“You could fit modern history into some of those scenes that go back centuries,” Mahony said. “It was a very humbling, grace-filled type of time.”



Behind the name

The new pope chose his name, Benedict XVI, in honor of two earlier Benedicts: St. Benedict, the patron saint of Europe, and Benedict XV, the most recent pontiff to use that name.


Primary inspirations:

St. Benedict of Nursia (480-543): Founder of monasticism, the practice of renouncing worldly pursuits to devote one’s life to spiritual work. The Benedictine Order is named after him.

Benedict XV (1914-1922): Emphasized neutrality during World War I and made several unsuccessful peace attempts. Organized humanitarian war relief efforts. Canonized Joan of Arc.

Other Benedicts:

Here is a closer look at some of the other interesting popes among the 15 previous Benedicts:

St. Benedict II (684-685) He liberated the church from interference by the emperor.

Benedict III (855-858) After his election, he was imprisoned and replaced by a rival, but eventually was installed as pope.

Benedict VI (972-974) Installed with great ceremony by the Roman emperor. Strangled after the emperor’s death.

Benedict VIII (1012-1024) A layman imposed on the papacy. Forced to flee Rome but later restored to the papacy by the emperor of Germany.


Benedict IX (1032-1044, 1045-1046, 1047-1048) He was only 20 when he became pope through his father’s influence. He was forced from Rome, but he returned to expel his rival. Later sold his office to his godfather, regretted it and retook the papacy. He was eventually removed from office, driven away and excommunicated.

Benedict X (1058-1059) An antipope, or usurper, who was installed by the same noble family that was behind Benedicts VI and VIII. He was deposed, excommunicated and forced to renounce the papacy.

Benedict XI (1303-1304) Fatally poisoned after restoring peace between the church and the French court.

Benedict XIII (1724-1730) A conservative reformer who sought to end the decadent lifestyles of Italian priests and cardinals.

Benedict XIV (1740-1758) Considered one of the greatest scholars among the popes, he established the Vatican Library catalogue.

Sources: New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, Wikipedia Encyclopedia, Liber Pontificalis, Gallery of Roman Pontiffs.


Graphics reporting by Brady MacDonald and Tom Reinken