Analysis: Pope’s birthday a time for reflection
As Benedict XVI, 80 this week, approaches his third year of his Papal reign there is little evidence to suggest that he his about to loosen his conservative grip.
Since his election on April 19 2005, the leader of the world’s 800 million Roman Catholics has taken an increasingly tough line in areas such abortion and same-sex marriage.
He has slammed calls to let divorced Catholics who remarry participate in the church and he has refused to relax the celibacy requirements for priests.
Venturing into politics, the Pontiff has given a stark warning to Catholic politicians that the faith’s values are “not negotiable.”
Europe remains one of the Pope’s key targets for re-establishing the religious basis of society.
His attempts took a blow when predominantly Catholic Spain moved to approve gay marriage and now he is focusing his efforts in Italy.
The Vatican remains at loggerheads with the Italian government over proposals to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples after the Pope’s persistent defence of the “traditional family” based on marriage between a man and a woman.
Unlike his predecessor John Paul II, who kept out of Italian politics ever since the Vatican failed to overturn Italy’s liberal abortion policy in 1981, Pope Benedict XVI has persistently ventured into the political-public spotlight to voice his opposition on secular issues.
Last February he accused policy and lobby groups of devaluing the family institution. The family “shows signs of ceding to lobbies capable of negatively eroding the legislative process,” he said.
“Divorce and free unions are on the rise, meanwhile adultery is viewed with an unjustifiable tolerance.”
And last October he warned people of “the risk of political and legislative decisions that contradict fundamental values and anthropological and ethical principles rooted in human nature.”
Such is the extent of his opposition that Italian police have given him special protection because of death threats.
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However some have suggested that the Pope has started to step back from his public denunciations.
Marco Politi, the Vatican correspondent for the Italian daily La Repubblica and a biographer of John Paul II, sees Benedict’s position as mainly focused internally.
“Ratzinger is a great cultural, spiritual and intellectual figure, but at the Vatican he’s been a preacher. In history, a great professor is not always a great head of state,” Politi told the Associated Press.
“There have been no internal reforms – such as to give the faithful enough clergy – or new initiatives on the international scene for dialogue among the great religions. There is a great deal of catechism and little politics,” he added.
The pope is scheduled to visit Brazil next month to make a major policy address to Latin American bishops.
In September he will resume his European travels with a pilgrimage to Austria, a place where Catholics have traditionally been less welcoming of directives from Rome.