Is the Pope Catholic?

One of the amusing aspects of Pope Benedict XVI’s installation as Pope this week has been the outrage expressed among secular liberals is that the Pope is, well, Catholic. As Philip Lawler notes in his column today for OpinionJournal.com:

Yes, the pope is a Catholic. Yet that unsurprising result has clearly shaken many secular liberals–and more than a few liberal Catholics–who feel that they have been somehow cheated of an opportunity. Their vindictive snarls have been prominently featured in the coverage of the new pope’s election. Benedict XVI has been characterized not merely as a "conservative" but as an "ultraconservative." Words such as "rigid" and "stern" are ubiquitous. Profiles of the new pontiff rarely fail to mention that as a teenager he was briefly a member of a Hitler Youth group (in which he was enrolled against his will) and the German army (which he deserted). When a London tabloid identified the new pope in a banner headline as "God’s Rottweiler," dozens of more respectable journalists gleefully seized on the nickname.

The portrait thus being painted–of a cold, remote, autocrat–is completely at odds with the actual personality of Benedict XVI. In fact, he is a genial, diffident man. Those who meet him for the first time are invariably struck by the humility that camouflages his powerful intellect. My colleague Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, a former theology student of the new pope’s, recalls how his mentor would "listen to absolutely everybody" before making his own comments. My own lasting impression is of the kindly man who, upon a family visit to the Vatican five years ago, took the time to introduce himself to each of my children, leaning down to the eye level of a shy three-year-old to make her more comfortable.

As the world comes to know Pope Benedict, and appreciate his self-effacing personality, the attempts to portray him as an ogre will become more difficult to sustain. But I can confidently predict that the vilification of the pope will continue, just as the public adulation of the late Pope John Paul was always tempered by an undercurrent of complaint about his own "rigid" doctrinal orthodoxy. Pope Benedict, the man, will be a convenient target for critics whose hostility is really directed against the Catholic Church and its moral teachings.

Personally, I believe that Pope Benedict XVI will be a great Pope. Judging by his critics, I’d say he’s the right man for the job.