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Day 10: Habemus Grandpapam!

Dorothy Cummings McLean is a columnist, blogger and author of Seraphic Singles (in Poland, Anielskie Single). She has an M.Div and a M.A. in English Literature, both from the University of Toronto. Her writing has appeared in the Toronto Catholic Register, the UK Catholic Herald, the Notting Hill Journal and Scots Heritage Magazine. She is married and lives near Edinburgh, Scotland.

For most of my life, I paid no attention to Vatican politics and had only the foggiest clue that there was something called the CDF, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an updated, more pastoral version of the Inquisition, whose job it was to keep Catholics safe from heresy. Thus I never heard the name “Ratzinger” until it was employed as a sort of epithet by certain priests and professors of theology who disliked or feared him. I was terribly surprised when, a year or two before his election as pope, I found a blog called “The Ratzinger Fan Club.” I had had no idea how popular he was with young Catholics, or that young Catholics took any interest in the head of the CDF. Still, the dislike of a few professors for Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was so acute that my heart was seized with  fear when I heard him proclaimed over the radio as pope.

The subsequent scramble of professors to find something loyal to say to the journalists who began ringing up immediately afterwards led me to actually reading and discovering who this Benedict XVI really was, i.e. not the Bogeyman. For example, I read that he had predicted a smaller, purer church. And I was impressed that he chose the name Benedict, for Benedict XV was a peacemaker and St. Benedict is the patron saint of Europe.

The more I studied theology, and the more professors of academic theology I met, the more I came to appreciate the work that Cardinal Ratzinger had done, and the work Benedict XVI was doing now. He met with Hans Küng, even though Küng had done nothing but slag off both him and John Paul II. He packed off the horrible, abusive founder of the unfortunate Legionnaires of Christ to a monastery. He took the chains off the Traditional Latin Mass, calling it the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and in so doing opened its treasures to two wondering generations and comforted those of earlier generations who had stuck to the Old Mass through thick, thin and accusations of disobedience.

Benedict had been pope for over three years when I first attended the Extraordinary Form of the Mass—in Edinburgh, where I met my husband—and for the first time, I found myself in a Catholic community who loved him. My husband-to-be, a convert, took the name “Benedict” for his confirmation, and the little men’s schola which provides music for the local EF, composed entirely of converts from Anglicanism, sings “Pro Pontifice Nostro” as if trying to strengthen the Holy Father  with the volume of their prayers.  To them Benedict is the great protector of Catholic tradition and the great liberator of the Old Mass, and that’s who he became for me, too.

I first saw the Holy Father in person in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park. He had come to Britain, where I now live, to visit the Queen, Catholics and the British in general and to beatify John Henry Cardinal Newman. I covered the visit for a Catholic weekly, and was lucky enough to find a place in the crowded meadow by the popemobile route. The popemobile trundled by as we cheered and I saw, not the Bogeyman, not the Great Warrior and Liberator, but a smiling, rather tired, surprisingly little, old German man with dark, dark eyes.

Dorothy signing copies of her book, ‘Seraphic Singles’

Well, I am a eighth German—my German-American grandmother was proud of her ancestry—and to me he looked not like a Papa but like a Grandpapa: Opa Ratzi. This impression was confirmed by the way he spoke English—not like Germans of my own generation, who have strong British or American inflections, but like most elderly Germans. When I saw the contrast between his mental brilliance and his physical fraility, I felt a tremendous wave of affection for him. I had moved beyond borrowed fear and borrowed love: this love, a love for a revered retired-scholar grandpapa, is my own.

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One comment on “Day 10: Habemus Grandpapam!

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