Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Flashback: Grand Inquisitor, circa 1988

"In essence, you are looking at the Grand Inquisitor", says Cardinal O'Connor, introducing then-Joseph Ratzinger to fellow participants at a conference on biblical scholarship in 1988. Even then, he was capable of suprising those misled by the Dostoyevskian caricature of his critics:

In fact, Cardinal O'Connor's introduction was very effective. His disarming quip cleared the way for him to praise Cardinal Ratzinger not only for his scholarship but also for his "gentleness and compassion."

In any case, the image of a gaunt and fierce Torquemada hardly seemed to fit the kind-faced, white-haired, soft-spoken, diminutive churchman who then took the podium to deliver a scholarly lecture.

Cardinal Ratzinger also made a distinctly non-inquisitorial impression on an interdenominational group of theologians with whom he met in a closed conference on biblical scholarship Thursday and Friday in New York City.

The Cardinal "never pulled rank," observed Bishop William Lazareth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

"Very impressive," said Dr. David Wells, a Congregational clergyman and professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.

"There was nothing inquisitorial about this conference," said the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, director of the Rockford Institute's Center on Religion and Society, which sponsored the meeting.

[From "Cardinal Is Seen as Kind, if Firm, Monitor of Faith ", by Peter Steinfels. New York Times February 1, 1988 | via: Benodette @ The Benedict Forum -- who also has photos of the Pope's visit to St. Joseph's seminary, including a commemorative tree he planted there twenty years ago].