Mary Ann Glendon: Expect Great Things From Benedict XVI

Interview With President of Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences

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ROME, APRIL 24, 2005 ( Reactions to the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Benedict XVI have been mixed, but on the whole Catholics are happy with the new Pope, says Mary Ann Glendon.

In this interview with Avvenire, the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences comments on her own reaction to the new Pope, and her expectations for his pontificate.

Glendon, a Harvard law professor, became the first female president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in 2004. She was also head of the Holy See delegation to the 4th U.N. Women’s Conference in 1995, and serves as a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Q: What was your first reaction at the news of the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new Pontiff?

Glendon: Even though the election was not unexpected, it was a thrilling moment when Benedict XVI emerged onto the balcony above St. Peter’s Square! Catholics of my generation are fortunate to have lived in a time of extraordinary Popes, and I believe we now stand at the beginning of yet another great pontificate.

Q: Was your first impression confirmed by the homily pronounced today by the new Pope?

Glendon: It was heartening to know that the new Pope, like his predecessor, has accorded such a high priority to Christian unity. The message in the Sistine Chapel confirms the links of mind and heart that will provide continuity in many ways with the work of John Paul II.

Q: Were you totally satisfied with the choice, or had you hoped for someone else? And why?

Glendon: I was delighted with the choice. By choosing one of his closest collaborators, the cardinals paid tribute to Pope John Paul II and indicated their hopes that the Church will continue to be led along the course he charted toward a springtime of evangelization. As president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, I take special pleasure in the fact that the new Pope is a brilliant scholar who has long been a member of our sister academy, the Pontifical Academy of Science.

Q: The new Pope was very close to John Paul II. He has though been welcomed with mixed reactions. Why do you think he is not seen as his successor?

Glendon: Anyone who was so united in thought to John Paul II will inevitably get «mixed reactions» — from the same people who had «mixed reactions» to John Paul II. For most Catholics throughout the world, however, I believe the reactions are overwhelmingly positive — precisely because Benedict XVI is seen as a successor who will build creatively on the major themes of John Paul II. He will, of course, bring his own remarkable gifts to the papacy, the Church and the world.

Q: Cardinal Ratzinger has been known as «cardinal no» for some of his positions on women in the clergy, homosexuality and contraception. Do you think the Church should have chosen a more moderate Pope?

Glendon: Cardinal Ratzinger’s primary responsibility for many years has been to protect and defend the precious deposit of the faith. Even though some of these doctrines are hard to follow at times, few Catholics really want the Church to «dumb down» her teachings to the level of a permissive society. A Boston radio talk-show host — well known for his irreverent attitudes — has defended the choice of Cardinal Ratzinger this way: «Look, I’m a bad Catholic and I know it. But a Pope has to stand for something, and even I don’t want a Pope saying the things I believe in.»

Q: Did you know Cardinal Ratzinger? If yes, do you think he is being portrayed in an unfair way?

Glendon: I have known Cardinal Ratzinger only through his writings and reputation, but everything I know about him leads me to believe he has been unfairly caricatured. I was very impressed that the respected Vatican journalist John Allen recently apologized publicly for what he now concedes was an unbalanced portrayal in his widely read book on Cardinal Ratzinger. The gap between caricature and reality was evident when the world saw and heard the real Cardinal Ratzinger deliver his remarkable homily at the funeral of his predecessor.

Q: Do you think his past in the Nazi youth movement can damage him, or the relations between Catholics and Jews? Or damage the Church itself?

Glendon: My husband, who is Jewish, tells me that this is simply a non-issue for Jews, who are well aware that Cardinal Ratzinger, like John Paul II, has worked hard to heal historical memories and to improve relations between Catholics and their elder brothers in faith. There are, of course, some dissident Catholics who will seize on any pretext to vilify Church leaders who reject Reformation-style Church reforms. But with respect to young Ratzinger, they will run into opposition, not only from the facts about his life, but from Jews who are becoming indignant at the exploitation of the tragedy of the Jewish people by Catholic dissenters.

Q: Do you think this choice sends a message to the Catholics around the world?
Which one?

Glendon: The cardinals’ choice, and the rapidity with which they reached consensus, sends a reassuring message that Church renewal and the New Evangelization will continue along the general lines laid down by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council as carried forward by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.

Q: What is your answer to the critics that accuse the Church not to address issues relevant to our time, such as abortion and gay marriage?

Glendon: The Church does address these issues, proclaiming the truth about the human person in and out of season. The truth is not always easy to hear, especially in a hedonistic and materialistic society. But the Church as an «expert in humanity» knows that we neither help people nor respect their dignity when we fail to tell them the truth.

Q: Which type of Pope will Benedict XVI be? How do you think Benedict XVI can be beneficial to the world?

Glendon: The answer to those questions lie hidden in the future. But we can confidently expect great things from a Pope who is such a brilliant scholar, gifted linguist, experienced pastor and skilled administrator.

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