George Pell campaigned for the late Pope

Australian Cardinal George Pell was reportedly a key activist for Ratzinger, although this has never been admitted. They met when young Bishop Pell was serving in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but it wasn’t until Francis became pope that Pell received a serious promotion from the Vatican.

It soon became apparent that Ratzinger, the great hope of the church’s conservative cardinals, may have been elected under false pretenses. He had earned his reputation as head of the Guardian Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Inquisition) as the ruthless right-hand man of John Paul II.

Pope Benedict with Australian Cardinal George Pell.

Pope Benedict with Australian Cardinal George Pell.Credit:Reuters

But as pope, the velvet glove replaced the iron fist, and the shy intellectual Benedict was surprisingly gentle, forgiving, and even kind, if still deeply traditional. As I wrote at the time, “God’s Rottweiler” had become the German Shepherd Dog.

In time the splendor of Benedict’s papacy faded. A cultured man, a gifted Mozart pianist and a cat lover, Benedict clearly disliked the demands of the job, particularly the confrontation.

There are too many insurmountable challenges, such as an increasingly post-Christian Europe, dwindling faith among young people, declining numbers of priests, sexual morality and bioethics. For Africa and Asia, relations with Islam were crucial, and in Latin America, poverty and relations with Protestants were an issue.

Benedict was also hampered by some politically naïve moments (for example the Regensburg speech, which was seen as an attack on Islam). In particular, he was a fairly incompetent administrator. (So ​​did Francis, but he had the wit of giving the administratively brilliant Pell a key role in curbing Vatican bureaucracy.)

Pope Francis, right, hugs Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2014.

Pope Francis, right, hugs Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2014.Credit:AP

In 2013, Benedict resigned, saying he had repeatedly examined his conscience before “reaching the certainty that, owing to advanced age, my strength is no longer fit for a proper exercise of the Petrine ministry.” He said the modern world, “subject of so many rapid changes and shaken by issues of deep importance to the life of faith,” requires the strength of mind and body that he has lost.

This sparked consternation, especially among traditionalists, as it shook the belief that popes must keep fighting to the death and that their suffering is part of their ministry — the clear view of John Paul II. But thanks to the sensibilities of the former pope and the new pope both lived harmoniously in Vatican City until Benedict died on Saturday at the age of 95.

Barney Zwartz, senior fellow of the Center for Public Christianity, was the religion editor of Age from 2002 to 2013. George Pell campaigned for the late Pope

Callan Tansill

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