God’s Rottweiler relentless in message



Bryan Kerns

The year was 1962, and Villanova was undergoing a physical transformation. If you’ve ever walked into St. Mary’s Hall and seen the iron gates in the main foyer, you might have thought it was funny for the College of Nursing to have such a thing. Well, you might also be surprised to find out that these gates enclosed the cloister of the Augustinian seminarians in residence in that building from 1962 to 1972.

Shortly thereafter, the Augustinians moved their seminary out of St. Mary’s, as it became far too big of a space to house the decreasing number of men in formation.

Pope John XXIII opened the first session of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, and throughout that first ecumenical council in 90 years, the next four popes would be present – three as bishops participating in the council, one as a priest acting as a theological consultant.

That young priest was Rev. Joseph Ratzinger – later Cardinal Ratzinger and now Pope Benedict XVI. In the intervening years between the council and his ascension to the papacy, he served as Archbishop of Munich and Freising in Germany and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Now, 46 years after John XXIII opened the council with “the renewal of the spirit of the Gospel in the hearts of people everywhere and the adjustment of Christian discipline to modern-day living” in mind, it would seem that the current pope is quietly rolling back some of the pronouncements of Vatican II with a new renewal of the Church in mind.

While liberal and conservative theologians will fight for centuries over the efficacy of Vatican II, no one can debate the effect it has had on Benedict and the greater Church.

With the Church in Europe hurting and American Catholicism beset by controversy in many arenas, Benedict is committed to restoring the Church in these crucial locations throughout the world.

His demands on the faithful are made clear in the two encyclicals he has produced thus far, Deus Caritas Est – “God is Love” – and Spe Salvi – “Saved by Hope.” In Deus Caritas Est, he called on the faithful to return to prayer and wrote, “Prayer, as a means of drawing ever new strength from Christ, is concretely and urgently needed.” He also wrote, “It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work.” The main thrust of Spe Salvi is found in this simple statement: “A world without God is a world without hope.”

As vocations dwindle, Mass attendance decreases, schools close and parishes encounter trouble in the United States, it is clear that the Church is undergoing problems in this country.

Benedict’s April visit to the United States will clarify his intentions and plans for the hierarchy here and thus its own actions. To date, the best preview of his strategy comes from an address of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state and second-in-command, to the Knights of Columbus in August of last year.

He said, “My dear Knights of Columbus, may you always remain men firmly committed to this ‘Yes’ – ‘Yes’ to your families, to your Church and to your communities – but most importantly, to Christ who is the ‘Yes’ to all our hopes and desires.”

More clearly: Get off your chairs and act with God in mind while putting secular concerns aside because God will take care of all that when necessary. This comes in the form of more vocations, more active laity, more faithful Church-goers, more people at Mass – anything at all that promotes the work and presence of God.

For someone who was once labeled “God’s Rottweiler” in his role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the pope’s message is uncharacteristically gentle. It essentially comes down to placing the onus of action on the people because after all, the pope is a prayerful man who acts with God in mind. It’s a question of whether or not the faithful will take his advice.

Ultimately, the goal for Benedict would be to have St. Mary’s Hall reopened as an Augustinian seminary and for St. Thomas of Villanova Parish to have to add more Masses on Sunday and for the University to offer more than three evening Masses.

Regardless of that, be assured that there will not be a single dull intellectual moment during this papacy, and all Catholics will be along for the ride.

Whatever your theological disposition, things will only get more interesting.

That’s saying something.


Bryan Kerns is a freshman honors major from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].