Vittorio Messori on the Myth and Reality of Joseph Ratzinger

Journalist Knows the New Pope as a Kindhearted Man

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ROME, APRIL 20, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Italian journalist Vittorio Messori believes that the image of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- which presents him as the "Panzer-Kardinal," is false.



Instead, Messori, who co-authored with the cardinal the 1984 "Ratzinger Report," refers to the German prelate as a "humble," "cordial" and "understanding" man.

The journalist describes the new Pope, in an article published today in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. Messori said he wrote the article just after he realized that he "is co-author of a book with the deceased Pontiff and of another with the one just elected."

In 1994, Messori helped produce "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" with John Paul II.

The journalist met Cardinal Ratzinger for a series of interviews in the summer of 1984 in the Tyrolean Alps.

The Bavarian cardinal, who had been named less than three years earlier as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was spending a few days of rest in the seminary of the small town of Bressanone.

Cardinal Ratzinger responded with frankness to the journalist's numerous questions.

"The myth -- and, sadly, the ideological hatred of many, in a certain clerical world -- has made of him a Panzer-Kardinal, an inhuman fanatic of orthodoxy, a true heir of the great Inquisitors," Messori wrote in today's article.

"The real Ratzinger, not the myth, is among the most kindhearted, understanding, cordial, even timid men that I have known," the journalist added.

The cardinal-now-Pope is "an austere man," Messori said. In "midafternoon, the nuns of the Bressanone seminary would bring a tray with hot chocolate and tea and excellent biscuits and cakes baked by them. I, and only I, served myself at will. For His Eminence, only a glass of water to drink in slow sips."

But, the journalist noted, the cardinal's discipline is "an austerity that (as opposed to that of too many fanatics of moralism) he reserved for himself and did not expect from others."

Joseph Ratzinger's profile is also that of a "man, among other things, of subtle humor, quick smile," Messori wrote.

"I remember one afternoon when we were at table, after an award he received, he wanted me to tell him some of the jokes circulating about him in the parishes," the journalist said. "I told him some of them and I realized that he was really amused."