As of this writing, Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict XVI, has been the Bishop of Rome for nearly three years. He turns 81 on April 16; thus, he is also one of the oldest men to be elected pope, and it is assumed by most that his reign will be much shorter than his predecessor's. However, history has played tricks in this regard. Leo XIII was elected as a frail 68-yearold in 1878, but lived for another 25 years.
Nothing can be predicted regarding the papacy except that there will be a surprise somewhere along the line, whether in the election itself or the actions of the pope (such as Pope John's convocation of the Second Vatican Council) or the length of his time as Servant of the Servants of God.
There was, it is fair to say, a mixed reaction to the election of Benedict XVI, among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Some responded with unalloyed joy that a brilliant theologian and staunch guardian of orthodoxy had assumed the office. Others, who had criticized Ratzinger as the previous pope's watchdog, foresaw a cloud of conservatism gathering over the Vatican, which would push back the clock to pre-Vatican II norms.
It is equally fair to say that Benedict, so far, has surprised everyone. Both critics and supporters have been "disappointed" that he has not toed the line they had expected. Some have been appalled at perceived public relations gaffes or seeming indifference to the contemporary cultural situation in the world. Others have been very pleased with what the pope has written, some of his decisions (such as the controversial lifting of the near-ban on the Latin or Tridentine Mass), and his lack of punitive measures against perceived threats to the Church's unity.
He is a professor, not a "progressive." At the same time, he is a realist, rather than a "reactionary." He is an introvert. His style is a combination of quiet joy and lack of concern for criticism-whether within or without the precincts of the Church. He has a flair for oldfashioned vestments (the "Santa Claus cap" and his centuries-old pallium), yet he is not uncomfortable in the modern world.
At World Youth Day in Cologne, in 2005, his first foreign trip (outside of Italy) this Holy Father spoke from his heart to some 600,000 young people on the topic that would be the subject of his first encyclical.
The encyclical letter, Deus caritas est ("God is love"), promulgated on Christmas Day, 2005 illustrates his preoccupation with this central theme of Christianity. As a theologian and as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a quarter century, Joseph Ratzinger was a prolific writer known for his clarity and broad range. The first encyclical is a very personal document, and at the same time it is a universal teaching that only the pope, as supreme pastor, may presume to offer.
One of the most controversial moments of his pontificate occurred at the University of Regensburg, in his native Bavaria, where he had been a professor of theology more than 30 years previously. His Sept. 12, 2006 lecture was titled "Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections." Earlier in the talk, in describing the failure of dialogue in the past, he cited the 1391 conversation of the "erudite Byzantine Emperor Manual II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both." The pope stated the emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. God, he said, is not pleased by blood and not acting reasonably is contrary to God 's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly without violence and threats.
Benedict emphasized that for contemporary Islam and the contemporary Church, reason must be employed in any dialogue that would hope to bear fruit and peace between the two religions. The firestorm of criticism from the Muslim world, and from many Christians in the West, has been well documented.
Then, on Nov. 30 of the same year, the Holy Father scored a diplomatic success on his trip to Turkey. He stood with senior Muslim clerics in the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul and prayed in silence facing Mecca. John Paul II is the only other pope to have entered a mosque.
And this was on a pilgrimage whose primary purpose was to reach out to Orthodox Christians, in the person of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, with whom he held joint services and offered a joint blessing to their faithful on the holiest day in the Orthodox Church calendar.
Benedict XVI's second encyclical letter, one of the primary forms of papal teaching, was published on Nov. 30, 2007. Its title is Spe Salvi ("In hope we were saved"). The document delves deeply into scriptural sources that link the concepts of faith and hope, which lead to humankind's salvation in Jesus Christ.
These are just some of the significant moments and steps in Benedict's own threeyear reign, which I describe as that of an "active caretaker." He has put his own stamp on the office.
On June 11, 2007 the pope issued a motu proprio (meaning "of his own accord," a document containing a pontiff's personal directive to amend a law or establish a new Church institution)-written in Latin-in which he restored the traditional rule concerning the majority required for the election of a new pope. According to this norm, in order for the election of the Supreme Pontiff to be valid it is always necessary to reach a majority of two-thirds of the cardinals present.
As described by the Vatican Press Office, with this document, Benedict overruled the guidelines established by John Paul II, who in the apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, laid down that the valid quorum for electing a new pope was initially twothirds but that, in the event the cardinals had arrived at the 33rd or 34th ballot still in a stalemate, a simple majority of the electors could vote to change the total vote needed for election to a simple majority.
There had been fear that, under John Paul's constitution, some faction, or factions, could purposely stalemate the balloting in order to hold out for the election of one who could win a majority but not the more solid consensus of a two-thirds vote.
If his pontificate turns out to be relatively short, nearly 100 of the previous electors will still be eligible to take place in the next conclave, along with the more than 20 cardinal electors created by Benedict. In contrast, only two of 115 electors in the previous conclave had not been elevated to the cardinalate by John Paul II-but had been put there by Paul VI, William Baum the American and Joseph Ratzinger the German.
(Editor's note: Greg Tobin, a former editor of The Catholic Advocate, is the senior advisor for communications at Seton Hall University, South Orange. His most recent books include Holy Father, a biography of Benedict XVI, and Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the Mysteries of the Papal Elections, both published by Sterling Publishing.)