People have called Benedict surprising. Some mean it as a compliment, others are voicing disappointment. But the surprise in both cases is that he has turned out to be very unlike the pre-election caricatures depicting him as a Grand Inquisitor who would make heads roll.
Still, for those who took the trouble to listen to what Joseph Ratzinger was saying all those years, the pontificate of Benedict XVI ought to come as no surprise. This former professor is now hard at work delivering a refresher course on the basics of Christian faith.
If there was any doubt about that, Pope Benedict's first encyclical — Deus Caritas Est — should have settled the matter. "God Is Love" — what could be more basic than that? And unless I miss my guess, Benedict has a compelling reason in mind for making the point.
It's this. Many people today — including many Catholics — have strayed so far from the truth, done such an effective job of closing their ears and hardening their hearts to the Word of God and the teaching of the Church, that it's a waste of time that risks being counterproductive to confront them yet again with hard truths. (The Church's teaching about sexual morality is an instance, though hardly the only one.)
So, what's a conscientious pope to do? Another pope might have another answer. Benedict's appears to be: Go back to first principles — God is love — and begin the long, slow process of leading people who've strayed from truth back to the fullness of faith.
This makes a lot of sense to me. After all, this is a man who in his "Pre-16" days wrote a book titled Introduction to Christianity
. I doubt he's against the notion that many Christians need such an introduction again.