The Changing Image of Benedict XVI

The Pope as Seen by Vatican Reporters

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By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, APRIL 24, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Initially the media portrayed Pope Benedict XVI as God’s Rottweiler, the stern protector of the faith. Seven years later he is now seen as a gentle and humble intellectual who has learned to move among the people, and a paternal figure who has made himself loved.

He is also seen as a reformer who has never lost sight of his objective: to proclaim Christ to the world and bring everyone closer to the Church. A Pope who has faced up to tremendous problems such as the sexual abuses.

This is the image that emerges from some interviews that ZENIT held with correspondents and Vatican experts who follow Benedict XVI’s pontificate, even if some of them hold that he has a difficulty with communication that still persists.

According to Giovanna Chirri, Vatican expert for the Italian Agency ANSA, “This Pope is a theologian who, although he became a reformer, never lost sight of his objective: to proclaim Christ to the world.”

“He met with a mountain of problems; suffice it to think of the cases of pederasty and the financial reform,” Chirri noted. “In his preaching of the last days and of Holy Week, it seems to me that his main objective has been to spread the faith and that the world be able to proclaim Christ.”

“Here in Rome I have discovered a different reality about Benedict from what his image is in France,” said Federic Mounier, the correspondent of the French Daily La Croix in Rome.

“This Pope is not the panzer cardinal, but a humble intellectual, very attentive in listening to people, but I fear his position is not duly listened to today because it is outside the usual rules of media communication; because he speaks in depth, because he is an intellectual,” said Mounier.

Juan Lara of EFE newsagency said that personally he had always had more or less the same impression of Benedict XVI. While he was perceived by some as being too conservative when he started as Pope, over time his deeds have shown that he “is a kind person of quite advanced social thought.

For Lara, how Benedict XVI dealt with the sexual abuse cases was particularly significant. “The Pope faced the event even putting many people against him, but he didn’t care so long as there was a cleanup and this is significant. He faced the scandal in the front line.”

Salvatore Izzo, Vatican expert with the Italian Agency AGI, said that Benedict XVI is acquiring a paternal figure that he didn’t have before.

“He is making a great effort to bring everyone closer to the Church, not just the traditionalists but also other more innovative movements,” he added.

Elisabetta Pique, a correspondent in Italy for the Argentine Newspaper La Nación, said that Benedict XVI doesn’t have John Paul II’s charisma but that he has learned to relax somewhat in public.

“Before he didn’t dare touch anyone; now he embraces and cradles babies. I think he has learned to manage himself with the masses.”

Andres Beltramo, Vatican expert in Italy for the Mexican Agency Notimex, also said that the perception people have of him has changed, and his trips to several countries accelerated this.

“In his last trip to Mexico, for example, initially people didn’t know him, particularly because he was -- so to speak -- under the shadow of John Paul II and there was a great question mark about his person,” he explained. “However, when they met him personally there was a change of attitude.”

He came into his own when the people were able to see him, so that their perception was different from what the media said, Beltramo added.

Alessandro Speciale, Vatican correspondent of UCA News, Religion News and Vatican Insider, said that Benedict XVI was faced with a challenge, a crisis, not certainly one on which he imagined he would build his pontificate, referring to the sexual abuses by clergy.

“And, in face of this crisis, he was able to give an answer that rose to the circumstances, which perhaps many men inside the Church would not have been able to do; they would have given an instinctive answer: “the world attacks the Church.” Instead, this Pope realized that it was an evil within, which had to be extirpated.”