The Path of Less Resistance

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Holy Office) since 1983, has exercised enormous influence within the Catholic Church.  In late 2002, he was elected dean of the College of Cardinals, a largely ceremonial and honorary position to be sure, but one that reflects his continuing influence and stature.

Ratzinger personifies the right flank of the present Vatican establishment, which is to say that he is considerably to the left of his preconciliar predecessors.  The cardinal has doubtless moved to the right since the days of his priesthood, when he roamed the corridors of the Second Vatican Council in coat and tie.  Still, he is a man of many weaknesses, some of which become clear in God and the World.

The book is an extended interview con-ducted by journalist Peter Seewald, a follow-up to the successful Salt of the Earth, published in 1997.  God and the World is interesting but not gripping; Ratzinger is too moderate by temperament to adopt positions that the reader will find particularly surprising or unexpected.  It is, nevertheless, worth reading, partly because Ratzinger deftly handles the questions and objections that Seewald poses to him—frequently from the perspective of a hypothetical atheist—and partly because, especially toward the end of the book, we see some of the timidity of even the...

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