A “powerless” pope?

At Our Sunday Visitor, our friend and longtime Vatican analyst Russell Shaw says Pope Benedict XVI’s new book-length interview reveals a pontiff who understands his role, and its limitations.

When Seewald says the Catholic Church’s membership of 1.2 billion and its geographical extension throughout the world make him “the most powerful pope of all time,” Pope Benedict gives a two-part reply: Among those 1.2 billion Catholics are “many who inwardly are not there,” while the pope is “a completely powerless man” who nevertheless bears heavy burden of responsibility….

Later the pope carries the theme of papal powerlessness further. Noting that Christianity in its early centuries was the target of several bloody persecutions by the Roman authorities, he says: “The primacy developed from the very beginning as a primacy of martyrdom…. Withstanding these persecutions and giving witness to Christ was the special task of the Roman episcopal see.”

Lest the contemporary relevance of that be missed, he adds, “The Church, the Christian, and above all the pope must always be prepared for the possibility that the witness he must give will become a scandal, will not be accepted, and that he will then be thrust into the situation of the Witness, the suffering Christ.”

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Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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