Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Fr. De Souza: a method to Benedict's "mistakes"?

Father Raymond J. De Souza believes there's a method to Benedict's alleged "mistakes" (National Catholic Register April 13-19 2008 Issue):

Will there be an American version of Auschwitz, where the Holy Father angered some Jewish groups with his statement that the Nazis were out to destroy Christianity, as well as its taproot, Judaism?

Or an American version of Regensburg, when Muslim mobs rioted all over the world in response to Benedict’s quoting of comments by a medieval Byzantine emperor who criticized Islam?

Or an American version of Aparecida, when indigenous groups criticized Benedict after he said in Brazil that Christianity was not a foreign imposition on the pre-Columbian native peoples?

In each case, the Pope’s trip produced an unexpected media eruption, and Vatican spokesmen sallied forth to issue clarifications about what the Pope really meant and did not mean.

A consensus view is that Benedict, who was a university professor, makes mistakes by expressing himself in language that requires both nuance and context, and that complexity sometimes leads to misinterpretations which sabotage his message. That’s possible.

But I contend for an alternative view, in that Benedict intends exactly the uproar that follows some of what he says. It draws attention to the larger point he is making.

According to Fr. De Souza, Benedict has been provoking international firestorms through his choice of language for so long that it's difficult to believe it's not deliberate -- contrary to the popular caricature of a bookish, reclusive, camera-shy academic, Benedict knows precisely what he's doing -- and points to the protest at La Sapienza University as a recent example:
What Benedict has demonstrated is that he is also skilled at using the media, but in a different way from his predecessor. While John Paul was the master of the iconic image, Benedict’s forte is the magisterial discourse.

But discourses by themselves do not attract attention unless they contain a spark of controversy. Benedict is, when he judges it prudent, ready to light that spark.

Pope Benedict with students of La Sapienza U
The recent controversy at La Sapienza University in Rome was another example of Benedict-style media management.

By canceling the visit in the face of threatened protests, the Holy Father knew that he would be highlighting the university’s opposition to him on a global scale.

In throwing fuel on that fire, he was able to illuminate important questions of liberty and tolerance in the public square, as well as draw attention to the role of faith and reason in the university.

His lecture, which would otherwise have passed unnoticed, was published in full in several Italian newspapers, and covered around the world.