By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
tMore than four years into the papacy of Benedict XVI, analysts have repeatedly pulled his track record apart and put it back together again, raising provocative questions about where the pope comes from and where he might be going. In that vast forensic exercise, however, one question often seems to loom above the rest.
Has Ratzinger changed his spots?
tThat is to say, has the lion of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the infamous “Panzer Kardinal” who polarized opinion like few other Catholic figures for the better part of 20 years, really metamorphosed into the lamb of Benedict XVI – seemingly a kinder, gentler, more optimistic figure? Or is such talk an illusion?
tTypically, those who answer “yes” mean it in terms of the categories of secular politics – that Ratzinger the archconservative has given way to Benedict the moderate. Today, however, one senior church official offered a version of the case for “yes,” but from a very different angle.