The conservative front-runner to become the next pope launched an impassioned defence of orthodoxy yesterday amid signs that his opponents were fighting back in the battle for the papacy.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger used the platform of St Peter’s to issue what was effectively an election manifesto by warning his fellow cardinals to defend traditional doctrine and reject innovation.
The alternative, he warned, was a church floundering in the “tides of trends and the latest novelties”, assailed by Marxism, secularism and radical individualism.
The Bavarian-born cardinal, who is the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog and dean of the College of Cardinals, delivered his appeal in a sermon at a special Mass that preceded the formal start of the conclave.
“We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” he said.
In an unusually outspoken homily, he urged his fellow cardinals to stand up for an “adult faith” that withstood ideologies, sects and an “anything goes” mentality that marked modern times.
The cardinal, a close ally of the late Pope, has been regarded as the favourite for some time. But progressives fear his uncompromising views could polarise the Roman Catholic world. As a result, he may fail to gain the required two thirds majority in the conclave to be elected pope, opening the way for a compromise candidate from Latin America or Africa.
Observers believe that while he will garner the largest individual share of the votes in the early ballots, his support may then fade away in favour of a candidate more able to unite all wings of the church. The anti-Ratzinger camp used the final days before the conclave to lobby wavering cardinals.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s sermon may also have been designed to sway his fellow cardinals towards making a conservative choice, even if he is not himself elected.
He is no doubt anxious to preserve his own legacy as well as that of John Paul II.
During his 23 years as President of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he published a series of documents reaffirming traditional teaching on women’s ordination, contraception, abortion and homosexual marriage.
In his homily, Cardinal Ratzinger said: “How many winds of doctrine have we known over the last few decades? How many ideological currents? How many schools of thought?
“The little ship bearing the thoughts of many Christians has frequently been shaken by these waves, thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertarianism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so on.
“Every day new sects arise, and St Paul’s words concerning the deception of men and the cunning that leads into error come true. Having a clear faith, according to the Creed of the Church, is often labelled as fundamentalism.
“While relativism, in other words allowing oneself to be ‘tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine,’ appears as the only attitude appropriate to modern times, a dictatorship of relativism is being formed, one that recognises nothing as definitive and that has as its measure only the self and its desires.
“An ‘adult’ faith does not follow the waves of fashion and the latest novelties; an adult and mature faith is profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ.”