Gone was Ratzinger's solicitude toward the unbeliever. Unbelief, once the shadow side of the human yearning for God, was now an outgrowth of noxious social forces. Where John Paul saw the forty years just past as a time of gifts, Ratzinger saw them as a time of despair. Where John Paul was soldiering on despite his ailments, Ratzinger in his study was a professor grown impatient with his students' lack of understanding. It concerned the Catholic Church's relations with other religions, and in approach it was graceless.
Contrary to Vatican procedure, the CDF pushed it through without giving key curial officials the chance to sign off on it, and Ratzinger himself signed the document on August 6, as Rome was emptying for the summer holidays. In a sharp departure from Vatican II, it treated other Christian denominations as essentially equivalent to non-Christian religions—implying that Christian faith that is not Catholic is not Christian faith at all. And it used wounding words, declaring that the other churches and other religions—the religions whose leaders John Paul was going out of his way to greet during the Jubilee—were "in a gravely deficient situation.
Cassidy would have gone to John Paul and said, 'You can't do this. In particular, Bishop Walter Kasper, then the secretary of the council, challenged the document. The day after the Vatican announced that Kasper was to be elevated to cardinal—a sign that he was likely to succeed Cardinal Cassidy as the head of the office—an Austrian magazine published an interview in which Kasper found fault with the document's "doctrinaire" tone and its "clumsy and ambiguous" treatment of other Christian bodies. The prefect of the CDF was not pleased. Now, 'pissed' for Ratzinger—I'm not sure 'pissed' is quite the word.
But he was pissed. The eyebrow was raised. The eyes rolled. If Ratzinger's intention with Dominus Iesus was to wave a red flag, he was successful. From its title onward it served to cast aspersions on the Jubilee road show, as some in the Vatican called it, and to make Ratzinger more prominent than ever as John Paul's alter ego, a cleric who was more Catholic than the pope. Seventy-five is the retirement age for Catholic bishops, and as Ratzinger's seventy-fifth birthday drew near—April 16, —the word from Rome was that retirement would suit him just fine.
In a letter to John Paul who was about to turn eighty-two he offered his resignation as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Ratzinger's resignation was not accepted, however. It was no time for the doctrinal prefect to step down. The papal schedule for rivaled that for —as if, having survived the Jubilee road show, John Paul was determined to extend its run indefinitely. There were the canonizations of nine saints, ranging from Juan Diego of Mexico to the little-known Pauline of the Heart of Jesus in Agony, keeping up a pace of saint-making that had led Ratzinger to suggest that John Paul was canonizing profligately.
There were three foreign trips, including a triumphal return to Poland. The scandal of priestly sexual abuse in the United States had reached a point of crisis. And John Paul's Parkinson's disease had become common knowledge. Meanwhile, another Vatican official was ailing. This was Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, a native of Benin and the dean of the College of Cardinals, a largely honorific role with one definite responsibility: that of directing the cardinals during a papal conclave.
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Gantin would turn eighty in May of As his birthday approached, he made known his wish to resign as dean and go back to Benin. He had sought to resign twice before. This time his resignation was accepted. In late November the six cardinal bishops one of three groups within the College of Cardinals met to elect a new dean from among themselves.
They chose Ratzinger, who had been the vice-dean. John Paul affirmed the choice. In some respects it was hardly unusual that the vice-dean would succeed the dean. But several people in Rome told me that the election of Ratzinger rather than Angelo Sodano, the secretary of state, resolved a conflict among the cardinals in ways that came to bear directly on the conclave. John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter , has called Gantin the "inadvertent architect" of Ratzinger's election as pope, and characterized the change in deans as "perhaps the single most decisive moment in the chain of events" leading up to the conclave.
He expanded on these remarks over lunch at his favorite ristorante in the Borgo Pio. As an ashtray was brought out, in defiance of Italian law but in deference to his taste for Nat Sherman cigarettes, he explained the situation. The feeling is that he is what the Italians call gonfiato —he has an inflated sense of himself. So it would have to be Ratzinger. Certainly Ratzinger would have been aware of this—and with a conclave in the offing, he would have seen the implications of getting elected dean sooner rather than later.
Did Gantin step aside so that Ratzinger could run the conclave? My conversation partners in Rome would say only that Ratzinger and Gantin have been allies ever since they were elevated to cardinal on the same day in Each is called to Rome by John Paul and serves loyally for twenty years as the head of a congregation—the two that you hear called the 'major' congregations. Each asks to retire and return to his homeland several times. And when, on his third request, Gantin's resignation is accepted, Ratzinger, with whom he had worked so closely, is elected to succeed him.
Surely there is something to this. Ratzinger was a natural next dean: a senior man, under eighty, and relatively healthy. His election put him front and center in the planning for the Church's future. It put him in place as the celebrant of the funeral mass for John Paul when the time came.
It gave him responsibility for eulogizing the dead pope and setting John Paul's long pontificate in context for future generations. Election as dean also enabled him to take a strong position on one of his key issues: the priority of the Church's doctrinal or teaching dimension—represented by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation of Bishops—over the political dimension, represented by the Secretariat of State.
This distinction, which might seem at first glance to be religious hairsplitting, is fundamental around the Vatican. Cardinal Ratzinger doesn't question this. But it's his view that the Vatican state isn't part of the essential nature of the Church as it has come down to us from the apostles. It's not biblical, and theologically its relationship to the Church as a whole is somewhat ambiguous. We were speaking on the Monday after John Paul's funeral, two weeks before the conclave.
John explained that the distinction between the Vatican's congregations, such as the CDF, and its other departments was at the root of a long struggle between Ratzinger and Sodano—a struggle that would most likely be played out in the conclave. But to represent the Church as a whole? To lead the Church?
Not a chance. Ratzinger himself had come to be recognized as a leader of the Church, and not just at the Vatican.
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Though his public image was unappealing, he was the only cardinal most ordinary Catholics would recognize. His pronouncements—about same-sex marriage, the United Nations, Catholic politicians, or Turkey's bid to join the European Union—were reported around the world as the statements of the pope's second-in-command. A series of photographs of the two men suggests a shift in their relationship as John Paul's health went into steep decline. At the altar of St. Peter's on Easter in prefect and pope are collaborators, bowing their heads together over the bread and wine.
Five months later Ratzinger looks on fretfully as John Paul, propped up by a lectern, seems about to topple over under the weight of the miter on his head. By early Ratzinger is caring for John Paul, looking out for him: as he proffers a giant crucifix for John Paul to kiss, he might be extending to the bent and wrinkled pope a means of support.
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My friend John remembers clearly the first time he thought that Ratzinger would become pope. It was during a grand mass on October 16, , marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Paul's election. The mass was held in St. Peter's Square at twilight, so as to recall the evening in when Karol Wojtyla stepped out onto the central loggia of the basilica and introduced himself to the world as the new pope "from a far country.
After several hundred cardinals and archbishops strode in procession to an altar outside St. Peter's, John Paul was rolled out on a special conveyance, a cross between a throne and a wheelchair that was now his principal means of getting around in public. Then Ratzinger gave a stirring encomium to his great co-worker.
He likened John Paul to Paul the apostle, who also had "tirelessly traveled the world" and had suffered bodily at the end of his life.
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It was then, as the standing Ratzinger addressed John Paul, who was slumped in his chair, that John felt Ratzinger would be the one. I just remember sitting there, watching and listening to him, and suddenly it hit me: He could be pope.