The Rise of Benedict XVI : The Inside Story of How the Pope was Elected and Where He Will Take the Catholic Church
From the author of Conclave and All the Pope's Men comes the story of Pope John Paul II's last days, the behind-the-scenes dynamics within the College of Cardinals that led to the choice of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, and where the new pope is likely to lead the Catholic Church.
On April 18, 2005, the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church gathered to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II. Faced with several potential candidates, the cardinals made a bold choice, entrusting the Keys of the Kingdom to 78-year-old Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, a man whose views on the challenges facing the Church and the broader culture could not be more unambiguous, or controversial.
Questions arose as the world watched while Ratzinger was installed as Pope Benedict XVI, the 266th pontiff of the Catholic Church. Why Ratzinger? Why someone so clearly identified with the previous pope? Why not a "compromise" choice? Why a Cardinal from Western Europe and not from Africa or Latin America? What would this mean for the future of the Catholic Church?
No one can tell the story of exactly what took place during the closed doors meeting, known as the conclave, when Cardinals from around the world cast their votes for the next pope, better than John L. Allen, Jr. As a correspondent for National Catholic Reporter and a Vatican analyst for CNN and National Public Radio, Allen has spent years covering Vatican politics and personalities, and his unique access to Roman halls of power has enabled him to write the ultimate behind-the-scenes account of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. The Rise of Benedict XVI is based on extensive research and exclusive interviews with eight cardinals representing five nationalities, guaranteeing readers an intimate glimpse into this monumental decision.
But Allen's insight also means that he is in a unique position to evaluate the accomplishments and legacy of the man now known as Pope Benedict XVI, and to provide some analysis of the direction he will take the Catholic Church in the coming years. Ratzinger's long career as a major Vatican insider, force of influence, and occasionally polarizing figure, has ensured that his pontificate will be one of the most fascinating in the history of the Catholic Church. Benedict XVI will certainly have a major impact on the lives of the faithful around the world, and John Allen's riveting new book is the definitive work on this turning point in history.
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October 16, 2006
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Excerpt from The Rise of Benedict XVI by John L. Allen, Jr.
THE FINAL DAYS OF JOHN PAUL II
When Karol Wojtyla was elected to the Throne of Peter on October 16, 1978, the world was dazzled by his sheer physical force. He was, to invoke a tired expression, a "man's man"-rugged, handsome, brimming with energy and self-conﬁdence. Fr. Andrew Greeley, the American novelist and sociologist, rightly observed that he looked like a linebacker in American football. Archbishop Michael Miller, today a senior Vatican ofﬁcial, who at the time of Wojtyla's election was a junior cleric in the Secretariat of State, said in a January 2005 reminiscence that from the moment John Paul II stepped out onto the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, "He simply dominated that space. He looked like he had been pope forever."
In the press coverage from those early years, the Pope was dubbed "God's athlete." He skied, climbed mountains, swam, and had an undying passion for the outdoors. The story of his nomination to be a bishop in Poland, when he had to interrupt a camping trip in order to accept and then went immediately back to kayaking after he had signed the paperwork, became the stuff of legend. At the table, the Pope had the hearty appetite of a man who once worked in the Solvay salt quarry outside Krakow; he could wolf down a plate of Polish sausage and potatoes, and a glass of beer, with obvious gusto. Even when he was wearing his pontiﬁcal vestments and saying Mass, he projected a raw physical energy. When he traveled, he kept up a brutal schedule that left his aides, as well as the journalists who traveled with him, exhausted. It seemed that he chafed against the very limits of time and space, so brimming was he with determination and drive. In 1979, for example, he took a nine-day trip to the United States and Ireland, and over the course of that time he delivered a staggering seventy-six speeches, which works out to roughly eight and a half speeches per day. Oral tradition in the press corps that followed the Pope has it that at one point, exhausted reporters tossed a message up to the front section of the papal plane asking for a day off, which produced a smile from John Paul II, as if to say, "I dare you to keep up."
This was a pope who understood the virtue of keeping in shape. Upon his election, he ordered a swimming pool installed at Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence outside Rome. When some in the Roman Curia, the papal bureaucracy, objected to the expense, he replied, "It's cheaper than holding another conclave." Coming fast on the death of his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, after just thirty-three days, his point was well taken.
John Paul II's astounding drive did not, of course, come just from his physical strength. He also had a deep, unwavering conﬁdence in divine providence, that God would not send him any burden that was not accompanied by the strength to bear it, and that everything that happened to him was according to cosmic design. It was his ﬁrm belief, for example, that on May 13, 1981, the Virgin Mary altered the ﬂight path of would-be assassin Mohammed Ali Agca's bullet in order to save his life and prolong his papacy. May 13 is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima, and on the ﬁrst anniversary of the assassination attempt, John Paul II traveled to Fatima in Portugal in order to lay the bullet that doctors had removed from his body before the statue of the Virgin, thanking her for coming to his aide. The motto of his pontiﬁcate was Totus tuus, "totally yours," meaning that he had offered it to the Virgin Mary, and now he believed she had returned the favor.
It was in part that belief in providence that allowed John Paul II to bear the sufferings and ailments of his ﬁnal years, not just with grim determination, but with serenity and good humor. Always the "great communicator," John Paul learned to use his growing physical limits-the Parkinson's disease, hip ailments, breathing problems, and arthritis-as another set of tools in his evangelizing toolbox, capitalizing on his inﬁrmity as a "teaching moment" about the value and dignity of human life from the beginning to the end.
In one sense, John Paul's long winter, roughly dating from the mid1990s to his death on April 2, 2005, illustrates the inhuman nature of the job he held. To be a pope is, in effect, a life sentence, and by the great Jubilee Year of 2000, the toll it had taken on John Paul II was unmistakable. His once-beaming, lively face had become frozen into a sort of Parkinsonian mask. His stooped frame and trembling hands spoke more eloquently than words ever could about the bone-crushing nature of the papacy. Yet the Pope's deep faith meant that it never even crossed his mind to abandon his post. Later, some would read his ﬁnal will and testament, released days after his death, to indicate doubt on this question; John Paul wrote in 2000, "I hope [the Lord] will help me to recognize up to what point I must continue this service to which I was called on October 16, 1978."