Benedict XVI : Memories
+ Michael Cardinal Fitzgerald, M.Afr.
I had more to do with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) than with him as Pope Benedict XVI.
According to the rules laid down in Pastor Bonus, the reform of the Roman Curia under Pope John Paul II, all dicasteries had to have the approval of the CDF before publishing any document that touched upon theology. This was the case for Dialogue and Proclamation, published in 1991 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID. Become now the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue) together with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (CEP). This involved three-way meetings of the top officials of the CDF, CEP and PCID. Cardinal Ratzinger was always well-prepared with written notes. He never bluffed his way with many words in answer to a question. He was always precise and polite in presenting his opinion.
Cardinal Ratzinger, at the request of a former student of his who had been chosen as the Orthodox bishop of Chambésy, Switzerland, became a founder member of the Foundation for Inter-cultural and Interreligious Dialogue based in Geneva. Before he was elected Pope, he asked me to replace him on the Board of the Foundation. I mention this because it shows that he had confidence in me. When, in 2006, so during his pontificate, I was sent to Egypt as Nuncio, it was not because Pope Benedict disagreed with my attitude towards Islam and relations with Muslims, as the social media at the time insisted.
The same media stated that had I been still the President of the PCID Pope Benedict would have shown me the draft of his lecture at Regensburg in September 2006 and the conflict that ensued with Muslims would have been avoided. I think, though I have no way of verifying this assertion, that Pope Benedict would not have asked the advice of anyone in preparing a lecture to be delivered at the university where he used to teach.
Had I been consulted I would have said that speaking about Muhammad is like treading on holy ground, and so it is necessary to have the delicacy to take off one’s shoes and tread lightly. One can understand the reaction among Muslims to the negative quotation that Pope Benedict used in his Regensburg speech. As one Muslim leader said to me at the time: “If Pope Benedict had said ‘I don’t agree with this’ there would have been little reaction, but unfortunately it was only later that it was made clear he did not agree with the quotation.” (On this whole question of the Regensburg lecture, see the special dossier in Islamochristiana 32(20060) pp.273-297).
During his pontificate Pope Benedict did not receive Nuncios in audience, which is strange since Nuncios are the personal representatives of the Sovereign Pontiff. This meant that between 2006 and 2012 I had no relations with him. After retiring I was granted a private audience and found that Pope Benedict was well briefed on Egypt and had many questions about the situation there. He had, after all, presided over the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East and published the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente.