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Benedict XVI and John Paul II: A Continuing Legacy?

John Paul and BenedictCan it be argued that Pope Benedict XVI bears the mantle of John Paul II as an heir to his legacy? Brennan C. Pursell, Ph.D., addressed this claim, drawing on his recent book, Benedict of Bavaria: An Intimate Portrait of the Pope and His Homeland, at the John Paul II Legacy Lecture on March 23.

Both men grew up in regions with a baroque Catholic culture which was festive, sensual and divine. John Paul II possessed a philosophical orientation and a preference for dialogical personalism. Benedict XVI mirrors these characteristics.

John Paul II was critical of the media. According to Dr. Pursell, “John Paul II, ‘the rock star pope,’ was repeatedly lambasted in the press for his teaching about human love and sexuality.” Likewise, “mainstream media venues have taken and twisted Benedict XVI’s words out of context for the sake of generating controversy,” says Dr. Pursell.

John Paul II upheld a tradition of Catholic worker social justice, was opposed to the idea of preemptive war and was, in a certain sense, conservative. Benedict XVI is similar to John Paul II in these respects. Moreover, Benedict XVI is an advocate for reform but not in the sense of embracing new things just because they are new.

Referring often to his book, Dr. Pursell discussed how Benedict XVI is a living paradox. He grew up on a small farm in a small town. He knew poverty and suffering, as did John Paul II. Even though Benedict XVI is regarded as an intellectual, he is most at home around simple people, in the presence of his simple surroundings.

The son of a civil servant, Benedict hated the Nazi government. When he was a child, he was selected to be a member of a welcoming group for Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber. Upon returning home, he announced that he had decided to become pope because he liked the color of the robes he saw at the welcome, even though he had always wanted to become a painter.

Dr. Pursell is an associate professor of history at DeSales University (Center Valley, Pa.), where he teaches courses on ancient, medieval, early modern and modern European history.

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Last Modified: April 28, 2009