Conservative Catholic print commentators are split on the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, who announced his resignation on Monday, to take effect at the end of February.
Jack Fowler, publisher of National Review, the magazine founded by William F. Buckley Jr. that helped bring conservatism to power within the Republican Party, and read devoutly by Ronald Reagan, was less than delighted by Benedict’s foreign policy.
“Pope Benedict’s career, of course, has been most admirable, and I think he is fully within his rights to resign,” Fowler told Newsmax. “His conscience seems to be very clear.”
But Fowler added, “As a Catholic I have to say I was somewhat disheartened by his trip to Cuba last year and all the positive gestures he made toward the Castro brothers while ignoring Cuba's dissidents.” Fowler said, “I found that to be quite painful.”
No such sour notes from Kathryn Lopez, editor at large of National Review Online and a prominent Catholic commentator and pro-life champion.
Lopez called Benedict’s resignation, the first by a Pope in nearly 600 years, “A remarkable act of discernment and humility and courage,” adding, “Pope Benedict, with all his great intellect, demonstrates what true surrender to the will of God is.
“This is a man who is united to Christ. The office comes with its unique graces, but what he models for us is what a life in service to divine love and mercy is.”
Looking to the endless commentary and punditry sure to come in the days and weeks ahead, Lopez said, “Much has and will be made in the global media of the differences in personality between John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. But to look at their papal legacies, you see two men of God.
“You see such consistency and coherence: one who showed us how to die, one who showed us when to step aside, one who helped liberate Eastern Europe from an evil that oppressed men, one who tirelessly worked to rebuild fundamentals of faith through his teaching, seeking to liberate our hearts from the evils that weigh us down.”
Fowler and Lopez may have struck on a dividing line in conservatives’ assessment of Benedict’s pontificate. On personal moral issues, the current Pope was arguably more aggressively conservative than his predecessor and can be expected to elicit kudos from prominent voices on the right because of that.
But on geopolitical issues ranging from how to deal with tyrants to critiques of capitalism to climate change, Joseph Ratzinger has not pleased conservatives the way Karol Wojtyla did.
In the end, it may be impossible to reach anywhere near John Paul’s standard considering his role — both diplomatic and in sheer moral force — in the liberation of his native land of Poland, the subsequent collapse of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and, ultimately, the end of Communist rule in Russia itself.
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