26 December 2006

A book not worth reading

Some weeks back I picked up a copy of Stephen Mansfield's Pope Benedict XVI: His Life and Mission (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005). It is a book I do not recommend.

I cautiously read the book because Mansfield constantly refers to "his [Pope Benedict's] God" and "his church." Of course, His Holiness neither possesses God nor the Church, but be that as it may, toward of the end of the book my suspicions were confirmed that Mansfield does not have a good grasp on the Roman Catholic Church.

Speaking about the days leading up to the conclave in which Pope Benedict was elected, Mansfield asserts:

Then there was the apparent transformation in Ratzinger's personal style. By all accounts, he could be painfully dry, both personally and in public. One cardinal feared that the banner over a Ratzinger papacy would be "The Bland leading the bland." Ratzinger and his supporters understood and this worked to make a change. At a funeral in Milan just weeks before John Paul II's death, both the popular [Cardinal] Tettamanzi and the usuallly tepid Ratzinger spoke. In a passionate and inspiring eulogy given without notes, Ratzinger so moved the crowd that they burst into applause when he finished. Tettamanzi was forced to follow him, but his uncharacteristically plodding talk, which was read from apprarently disorganized notes, met only with stony silence.
The Ratzinger makeover continued. His sermons improved and his newfound ease with a crown was widely acknowledged. He seemed to be everywhere. He not only gave the Good Friday homily as John Paul lay dying but he also spoke at the first of the novemdiales Masses, at the cardinal's daily congregation meetings, and at the pre-conclave Mass, where he seemed to outline a direction for the future of the Church....

Many [Mansfield apparently included] saw this as Ratzinger's bid for office (142-143).
Mansfield's assertions are, of course, quite ridiculous, and betray a lack of knowledge of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, his writings and his preaching. Ratzinger himself did not change; people's - largely Americans, I expect - perception of him changed. Raztinger was not "bidding" for office, but simply proclaiming the truth, in the most public way he could.

As bad as this false assessment of Ratzinger is, Mansfield makes a much greater - and inexcusable - error on page 159 where he says:

The vast majority of Catholics in America do not attend Mass regularly, believe it is possible to have an abortion and still be a good Catholic, and believe that the Eucharist is merely a symbol rather than a repeated sacrifice of the real body of Christ as Church doctrine maintains [emphasis mine].
Church doctrine, of course, does not maintain this, nor has it ever. It is the same sacrifice re-presented. A simple consultation with the Catechism of the Catholic Church would have given Mansfield the correct and authentic Catholic sacramental belief: "The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice are one single sacrifice" [emphasis original], 1367.

If Mansfield cannot even get this most basic of Catholic doctrines correct, his book most certainly is not worth reading.

One papal biography worth reading is Peter Seewald's Pope Benedict XVI: Servant of the Truth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006).

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