Newsflash: Benedict isn’t the angry, aloof pope we keep insisting he is.

Deacon Greg linked to an article in the Vancouver Sun this morning that wrapped up the pope’s UK visit, and I’m exasperated just from the title:

Pope sheds ‘Vatican Rottweiler’ image on Britain trip

Really? Are we still acting surprised when, once again, Pope Benedict turns out to be nothing like the angry caricature so often painted of him? It goes on:

British media Monday hailed Pope Benedict XVI for shedding his distant and authoritarian image on his historic state visit, but cautioned the Catholic Church still faced challenges in the nation.

The pontiff succeeded in presenting himself as a lovable, elderly figure — a far cry from the “Rottweiler” image, they said.

“What the visit accomplished above all was to unify Catholics and humanise a pope who has so often been perceived as cold, aloof and authoritarian,” wrote Catherine Pepinster, editor of The Tablet newspaper, a British Catholic weekly.

“The fabled Vatican ‘Rottweiler’ turned out to be a shy, warm and frail 83-year-old who perked up every time his security detail allowed him to greet people, especially youngsters and his own generation.”

I’m curious to know how many state visits it will take — how many meetings with abuse victims, how many World Youth Days, how many photo ops like this — before people stop trotting out the Rottweiler line, as if he has suddenly undergone some radical transformation, and state the obvious: Pope Benedict is a “shy,” “warm,” “lovable, elderly figure.” It’s not some act he’s putting on to win over crowds; anyone who has been paying attention would know that — as the massive crowds who turned out for his visit can attest.

Yes, Benedict had a reputation (unfair even then) as the Church’s watchdog — ten years ago. He’s now been pope for five. It’s not like he’s been hiding under a rock all that time, and this is some shocking new character development. Can we please come up with some new headlines?

Margaret Cabaniss


Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

  • Ellen

    The faculty at the university where I work got all het up about it, until one of the Catholics on the faculty said, “Look – all the news about him is not a bit accurate. He’s a respected scholar and a very kind man. You’ll see.”

    I think they have.

    • annedanielson

      I wonder if Pope Benedict is aware that Cardinal Dolan, at the Al Smith Dinner, referred to the the two men running for the office of Vice President as Catholics, and The Catholic Church, as a “big tent”, that could accommodate those who do not respect the Sanctity of every Human Life, and The Sanctity of Marriage and The Family?

  • Sarah S

    That photo got me all teary and sniffly.

  • Glenn M. Ricketts

    Don’t forget that he was the “Panzer Kardinal” and Dr. NO (I believe Time Magazine came up with that one) as well. Unfortunately, the media story was written long before he became pope, and also awaits his successor as well. The only way to avoid this eventuality is to change the Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception, gay marriage, etc., etc. You see what I mean?

  • Mrs. F

    Not long after Benedict XVI was elected pope, a friend of mine asked how I felt to have such a conservative man elected. I was surprised because my friend apparently viewed John Paul II as a very liberal pope. I didn’t see it that way, but it did give an insight into how non-Catholics viewed the process, since my friend was not Catholic. I was pleased to have a pope who would be seen as a fighter, as a defender of the faith. Rottweilers are faithful, strong, focused and protective of their family. Those are not bad traits for the Holy Father to have.

  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Rottweilers are faithful, strong, focused and protective of their family. Those are not bad traits for the Holy Father to have.

    Hi, Mrs. F — I agree with you. After I finished my post, I realized that maybe I should have rephrased my comment in the last paragraph above (curse of the editor — I’m always revising!). I agree that being “the Church’s watchdog” is a good thing; I should have referred more specifically to the denigrating nicknames the media used for him. “Panzer Kardinal” is a good example (thanks, Glenn); even “God’s Rottweiler” was never meant in a sympathetic way — as if he were some snarling attack dog. That’s simply not his nature.

  • JC

    Of course, there are those of us who see PanzerPope or PanzerKardinal as a rallying cry. I prefer to call him the B16 bomber, but it is precisely his humility and scholarly nature that make him effective at spiritual and cultural warfare.

    Hard to believe, though, it’s already been over 5 years since that day when I heard the words, “Dominus Iosephus Cardinalis Ratzinger!” and literally jumped out of my seat so high with joy that I almost punched a hole in the sealing.

    His Holiness has been a surprise but never a disappointment, and the thing that’s struck me most is not that he defies the secular media’s insistence on stereotyping him as some kind of cross between a Borgia and a Nazi, but rather the rumblings about how certain elements at the Vatican dislike his refusal to be “handled,” his insistence on speaking off the cuff or writing his own speeches, etc.

  • JC

    And, speaking of editors, I can’t believe I misspelled “ceiling” so egregiously!

  • Sue Sims

    I predict that, as a dog returns to its vomit, the media will return to the PanzerKardinal image within days; and, just as seven devils took over the man where there’d previously been only one, the Holy Father’s enemies will be more antagonistic than before – not simply because his virtues will be out of sight and thus out of mind, but because many journalists will be (sub-consciously or otherwise) annoyed at themselves for being “taken in”. The dwarves are for the dwarves.

    I hope I’m wrong.

  • Cord Hamrick

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