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Pope must address the issues that divide Christians.
PHILADELPHIA--As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI served as head of the Roman Catholic Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His job, simply stated, was to watch over and enforce theological orthodoxy. He was, as it were, the main ideas man for the oldest continuous institution headquartered in the Western world.
Now, however, he has a bigger and different job. His immediate predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was himself a towering intellectual, as he demonstrated in everything from papal encyclicals to beautiful poems, from sophisticated philosophical meditations to pointed public addresses. But John Paul the Great, as he is already being called, was, more profoundly, a great pastor, a religious servant-leader, and a charismatic spiritual being who often managed to transcend hatreds by touching hearts. As we witnessed over the last few weeks, even many who disagreed strongly with Pope John Paul II respected, liked, or loved him.
The incredible challenges facing the new pope will grow or shrink depending not only on what ideas he emphasizes but, more so, on what concrete actions he takes and what symbolic gestures he makes. The Roman Catholic Church is growing by leaps and bounds in Africa and other places even as it seems to be receding in much of the West. Catholics in the United States and Europe are far more divided on moral and social issues, and generally far less open to theological orthodoxy, than are Catholics in the church's main growth regions.
Still, the divisions in America and Europe matter greatly, if only because those Catholics are, on the whole, wealthier and more influential than their Catholic cousins around the globe. The new pope's clear early message concerns unifying Christians, and that will be a tall order even if it only means unifying Catholics.
Whatever the doctrinal or other conflicts that have characterized his career to date, Pope Benedict XVI's future works could unify Christians and non-Christians alike. For the necessary intellectual guidance, he will need to look no further than two church documents he himself helped to craft.
First, there is Pope John Paul II's 1995 papal encyclical "Unum Et Sint," translated as "On Commitment to Ecumenism." This action-minded call for Christian unity echoed the same call made by the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism, and enshrined as official Church doctrine ever since.