Looking Back at the Last Two Popes

by Ramesh Ponnuru

My article in the latest NR, now online, looks at the different approaches that John Paul II and Benedict XVI took to the project they had in common.

The intellectual project the two popes had in common could be summarized as a reclamation of the Second Vatican Council, in which both had been influential participants — John Paul II as a bishop, Benedict as a “peritus” (theological expert). Both saw the council as a reform of the previously existing Church and not a break with it: It amounted to “innovation in continuity,” in Benedict’s words. The Church had not surrendered to modernity but rather had found within itself the resources to engage it. . . .

John Paul and Benedict had to do battle on two fronts to vindicate this interpretation of Vatican II: against reactionaries who opposed the council as a rejection of all that had gone before, and against progressives who supported it for that reason. (The political terminology, though not wholly appropriate, is hard to avoid.)

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