Benedict in Turkey

Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Turkey, a visit scheduled long ago to help patch up the ancient dispute between the Latin and the Greek church. Turks are, as a result of Benedict’s fairly foolish speech earlier this year about faith and reason in which he cited one of the last Byzantine emperors describing Islam as a violent and inhuman faith. I won’t critique the speech here, because I’ve already done that.

What I didn’t not in my essay, because it wasn’t something I considered until after I’d written the essay, is that it was not sufficiently pastoral. As Cardinal Ratzinger, the pope was an enforcer of orthodoxy — his job was to make sure people toed the line and didn’t stray too far from the established views of the Church. As a German academic, Ratzinger never really had to worry about the effects of his speeches and writings, because they were intended for a much narrower audience.

But he doesn’t have that luxury anymore. The Roman Catholic Pope is one of a tiny handful of people in the world — the Dalai Lama is the only other person I can think of — who have near-universal recognition as a kind-of pastor to the world. His flock is not only the world’s Roman Catholics, not merely its Christians, but everyone. There are things he could do as both a German academic and maintainer of orthodoxy that he can no longer do as pope, and one of those things is to bad mouth other faiths (or even quote those who bad mouth other faiths).

I suspect some Roman Catholics — and others — will express concern at this. How can one of the few universally recognized titular leaders of Christendom speak truth to power if he cannot properly critize religions that are grounded in falsehood? That misses the point. His job is now pastoral, that is, to care for the souls of all the world, and you don’t preach the Gospel — or live the Gospel — by bad mouthing others. His congregation is not merely Europe (a place he spends much to much time worrying about), and not merely Catholicism, and not merely even divided Christendom, but the whole world. And if the pastor cannot preach the Gospel, call men and women to repentence and bring them to a better understanding of their thoughts and behaviors in love — and implying people are “evil and inhuman” is not loving — then he ought not be a pastor.

The first encyclical on love was very pastoral, so Benedict is quite up to this task. He needs to remember he’s no longer an academic, no longer an enforcer, but a preacher, a pastor, a shepherd who must care for all his flock. Christian and not. Benedict, I think, is learning this.