Clear-minded and thorough introduction to the new pope.
In this balanced work, Gibson (The Coming Catholic Church, not reviewed) successfully combines biography and journalism to illuminate Benedict XVI, one of the most controversial religious figures of our time. He begins with an in-depth exploration of John Paul II, with whom then-Cardinal Ratzinger worked closely and in whose inimitable shadow the new papacy stands. Contrasting the two popes as “Pontifex Maximus” and “Pontifex Minimus,” Gibson encapsulates the personalities and approaches of both. The author then explores Ratzinger’s background as a young man growing up in Nazi Germany. Pushing aside tabloid headlines about the future pope’s involvement or non-involvement in that regime, Gibson does discuss the impact these youthful experiences had on his personality. Subsequent chapters cover Ratzinger’s years as a progressive scholar during Vatican II and his role as a neo-conservative following the Council. Gibson then provides an in-depth account of Ratzinger’s quarter-century as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Comparisons and contrasts between Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict round out the survey. Though not focusing entirely on American issues, Gibson provides discussion of the relationship between Benedict and U.S. Catholics. His summaries are fair, his analysis free of hyperbole. He states at one point that Benedict “comes off as not just countercultural, but anticultural, and even fatalistic.” The new pope’s most avid supporters may not be pleased, but the average Catholic (or non-Catholic) will find this book worthwhile. Gibson’s ability to provide in-depth background about church history, theology and hierarchy is also of great value to lay readers.
An important reference for anyone with an interest in the modern papacy.