An Old Benedict Ready for a New Francis
The historian Anthony Grafton has posted a short appraisal of Pope Benedict XVI’s strength’s and weaknesses on the blog of the New York Review of Books. The judgments are equitable; the tone, remarkably equable. He describes Benedict as a man of qualities — as, among other things, “probably the greatest scholar to rule the church since Innocent III” — but he also argues that Benedict’s best qualities may not be the ones most needed in the wake of a scandal. Grafton ends by hinting that Benedict himself may know this. Among the pope’s many virtues, Grafton suggests, is a lucid awareness of his own limits, and an understanding that the church needs saints more than it needs popes.
It seems unlikely that Benedict is the man to transform the Church, so that it freely and frankly confronts what many priests have done to the children in their charge, and what many of their superiors did to conceal their crimes. Still less does he seem likely to remake the church into an institution that not only worships in an orderly, beautiful and theologically clear way, but also ministers to the world as it is now. But he is a great scholar, with a mind as crisp and deep as Innocent’s. He knows that the church, whatever its resources, needs its saints, and has often found them far outside the Curia. History matters to the Pope, and that gives some reason to hope that he is not looking for another Dominic, since he himself has played that role so well, and that he too will recognize the Francis or the Angela Merici of our time when he or she appears before him.