Some years ago, after a speech he delivered in Paris drew a bit of negative reaction, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told friends he wasn’t worried. “I’m like the cellist Rostropovich,” he joked. “I never read the critics.”
That’s a policy Benedict XVI might want to preserve over the next few days, marking both his 83rd birthday today and the five-year anniversary of his papacy on Monday after a brief weekend stop in Malta. Especially in light of recent events, even the best reviews the pope’s likely to draw as these milestones roll by seem certain to be mixed.
The largest news magazine in his homeland of Germany, Der Spiegel, recently proclaimed Benedict’s regime a “Failed Papacy.” Meanwhile, an obscene phrase was spray-painted earlier this week on the house where Benedict XVI was born in Marktl am Inn, in southern Bavaria, and even in ultra-Catholic Malta, posters announcing the pope’s visit have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and references to pedophilia. In the United Kingdom, some voices are even proposing a criminal indictment against Benedict XVI when he arrives in September as the alleged mastermind of a global conspiracy to shelter predator priests. (At the bottom of this column is a link to my take on that idea.)