Can the continent return to its Catholic roots?

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The new pope has taken the name of the patron saint of Europe, said Hervé Yannou in Paris’ Le Figaro. That choice sends a clear signal that the papacy of Benedict XVI will focus on reestablishing Europe as the vital center of Catholicism. For this pope, the European Union has gone beyond religious tolerance and become a culture “that actively opposes the religious impulse.” The E.U.’s official policy contradicts church teaching on a score of issues: Gay rights and abortion are legally protected, condom use is encouraged, and even euthanasia is permitted. Last year, when then Cardinal Ratzinger was already effectively running things during John Paul II’s illness, he spoke out furiously against the omission of any mention of Christianity in the European Constitution and against plans to invite Muslim Turkey to join the union. Benedict XVI has launched “a mission to save Europe.”

He’ll have the opposite effect, said Patsy McGarry in Dublin’s Irish Times. Pope Benedict XVI is easily “the most divisive figure in the Catholic Church.” His “rigidly orthodox view of doctrine” stands in opposition to the original meaning of the word “catholic,” as universal and open to all. Whereas Europe has been advancing into the 21st century by giving greater rights to formerly oppressed groups, the pope seems to want to “create a virtual 1950s.” In fact, he has already started. Over the past two decades, while he was guardian of orthodoxy as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he “helped force the closure of so many of the windows thrown open by Pope John XXIII” at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Church doctrine under Pope Benedict XVI will surely return to what it was in the early part of the last century. It will be as if the reforms of the 1960s never happened. That is not the way to win over Europeans.

Benedict XVI doesn’t care about popularity, said historian Timothy Garton Ash in the London Guardian. While “John Paul II was a welcoming, ecumenical, big-tent pope,” Benedict XVI is a purist. He will not compromise one iota on what he sees as God’s law. In his view, “if becoming smaller is the price of the Catholic Church remaining true to its basic principles, so be it.” It is a principled and determined position. But unfortunately for Benedict XVI, it “will surely hasten precisely the de-Christianization of Europe that he aims to reverse.”

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Ernesto Galli della Loggia

Corriere della Sera

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