Why Was Benedict So Hated?

The question has arisen as to why Benedict was insulted and vilified with a violence unknown concerning his predecessor. It is an interesting question, because those who follow Catholicism cannot see between the two anything near the difference the world sees. My attempt at explanation is as follows: 

The masses do not reason, they emote. They are put in front of images, and take these images to be reality like a very small child would do. If you make them feel good they will like you, otherwise they will ostracise you. What you say or believe does not really interest anyone outside of the practicing Catholics. The theological vicinity of JP II and Benedict was, therefore, never an issue. 

Severe, rigid, and very German, the still kind and gentle Ratzinger could never hope to win the symphaty of the mob. 

No kissing of the soil for him. No captivating smile. A decades-long past of enforcer (of JP II, of course; but this requires too much thinking). Attention to liturgY. Red shoes. Far too intelligent for the masses to warm to him. A complicated talking and writing style. No frequent travelling circus. The man would not have had a chance even if he had been far more “progressive” than JP II. 

Compare Benedict to JP II. Persecuted past. Captivating smile. Modern liturgy, mega masses, full airports. Shot on St Peter’s Square. Relentlessly travelling. Earth-kissing. From the Nineties on, part of the furniture in the households of half the planet. A reassuring old uncle in white, the kind of uncle no one listens to but everyone wants to have in the family anyway.  Catholics kept leaving the Church, but the uncle in white was reassuring for everyone. JP II would have had the same success if he had been more conservative, because people didn’t care a straw for what he said; they felt better with themselves at seeing the usual old uncle in white, and that was that. 

Professors are rarely popular. Showmen always are. JP II understood showmanship, B XVI refused to play the game in the first place. How orthodox they were, or what difference there were between them, not 1% of the population could have told you. But that JP II had a warm, welcoming, embracing smile the rigid, timid Benedict never had was known to everyone. In the age of mass stupidity, a smile is an awful lot. 

The shoes, the chasuble, the liturgy, do not play – if you ask me – any real role in this. The world at large has no idea of what Summorum Pontificum is. They want to see if you kiss the earth, or produce yourself in some other new exercise of the sort. They want you to be part of a reassuring routine. In time, they will accept you if they see you on TV often. But you must have a good, telegenic smile, a smile they will like to see. They must feel better when they look at you. You must be their all-year Groundhog, whose “weather forecast” no one believes but it’s nice to have around anyway. 

JP II was a very good groundhog; B XVI, not so much. Of all the rest (liturgy, appointments, social issues, doctrinal stance) the world at large had and has pretty much no idea, beside knowing that the Pope is Catholic (better times, those) and the Church will not change her teaching. 

Of all those who told me how much they liked JP II, almost none knew the first three things about Catholicism. The same with those who later told me how much they do not like Benedict. The stance of the two Popes on many issues was largely the same. The criticism they did receive from the world for it was largely the same. But this is not what made the difference. 

What made the difference is that one was a popular groundhog, and the other wasn’t; both because of the absence of the required smile and showmanship and because, thankfully, he never even wanted to be one. 


Posted on February 12, 2015, in Traditional Catholicism. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I do not have any statistics, but the now 20 and 30-something year/old devout Catholics and also Protestants in the USA were serious in their love of Pope Benedict and actually preferred him over Saint Pope John Paul II who was old and frozen-faced with Parkinson’s disease during the years they remember him most . This age-group tended to relegate John Paul II to their parent’s generation. Older Serious conservative Protestants were aware of the work that Pope Benedict did during his years as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in preserving Christian Dogma and building bridges with other Christian faiths along with Pope John Paul II. Conservative Evangelical Protestants in the USA attribute the Catechism of the Catholic Church to Cardinal Ratzinger, and hold it in great esteem. Some of these same Conservative Evangelical groups are extremely wary of Francis. Pope Benedict xvi’s books were/are esteemed in devout Protestant circles.

    Aside from Trads, I do not think shoe color is all that important to anyone anymore. Pope John Paul II wore shoes of an Oxblood or Cordovan color ( a mix of brown and red), probably because early color TV had a problem with red. Before color TV and newspapers, and Papal travel became commonplace, most people in the USA did not know the color of the Pope’s shoes.

    • I have a different perception.
      JP II = good uncle, “but I feel that contraception is right”.
      B XVI = bad uncle, “and he has a creepy smile”.
      I mean among the people out there, not the devout Catholics.

    • I hate to have to agree, but I work with ‘the masses’. It really is that superficial.

    • I grew up in a Country in which the Commies came to 35% of the votes.

      It vaccinated me against the mob at a rather young age.

      It also taught me not to idolise democracy.


  2. Groundhog Mundabor? Reassuringly honest.

  3. It has occurred to me that people do not mass to see a pope, but a celebrity. The more lauded by the secular media, the more convinced people are that they must have a piece of the action. From the start of his reign Benedict had a bad press, led by Catholic commentators, no less. And who had they been talking to promote the Nazi-pope parody? Why, none other than those who should have been the most loyal to Benedict; those right at the top. Benedict wasn’t clubbable, or a turn-it-on smiler, and I remember being astonished at how radiant he looked during his UK visit. I remember, too, the moment he came out on to the balcony immediately after his election with arms outstretched as if to embrace the world. A world which proceeded to kick him relentlessly.

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