Benedict Should Be Called Leo

I love Pope Benedict, but I am beginning to think he chose the wrong papal name. He should have picked Leo. When the Council of Chalcedon met in 451, it was said “Peter has spoken through Leo.” In 1049, Pope Leo IX assumed the papal throne and began a reform of the Church, starting with the curia, in to which he recruited the best and brightest of his day. And, of course, Leo XIII, in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, laid the groundwork for the development of the Church’s social justice tradition in the modern world.

Pope Benedict’s remarks in Portugal, and on the flight there, have been chronicled ably by John Allen below. There was none of the defensiveness about the sex abuse scandal we have seen among those who have been speaking on behalf of the Pope the last few months; instead there was a forthright admission that the fault lay within. One shudders to think what the Pope really thinks of the evident corruption that surrounded his predecessor in his last years. In his speech on culture, there is none of the distrust towards the modern world that we see, sadly, too often among the more outspoken American bishops; instead, the Pope spoke of engaging the secular mind and seeking a common, redemptive humanism with it. And, of course, he has continued the Church’s social justice teaching in the encyclical Caritas in Veritatem.

As Allen notes, the speech on the relationship of the Church to culture was breathtaking, although I did not perceive the influence of Cardinal Martini so much as that of another cleric from Milan, Father Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communione e Liberazione. The commitment to a dialogue with other faith traditions and with the secular world are essential to the CL vision, as is the belief that the human, the authentically human, is the starting point for evangelization. We live with the experience of God, even when we fail to grasp the possibilities of that experience, and the modern world desperately needs to be reminded of the transcendence of the human person.

Let’s hope that Benedict has the energy and the strength to bring his vision to fruition. Like Leo IX, he needs to reform the curia or else his vision will be still-born. That is easy for me to say: I do not have to work there. But, if everyone in the Vatican curia spoke with the openness and confidence of Pope Benedict, I dare say the Church would find herself in a better spot than the one in which we do find ourselves.

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