Pope Benedict’s personal style is quiet and ingratiating. His evident humility, and the deference with which he treats others, make it impossible for the public to continue thinking of him as the media had portrayed him. The people of Great Britain did not see a stern, rigid ideologue. They saw a mild, self-deprecating man who treated them with respect—and, because he respected them, told them the truth. ...
Pope Benedict was gentle but relentless in challenging the basic ideas that sustained that distinctively Protestant imperial era. In his historic address at Westminster Hall—with every living former prime minister in attendance—the Pope suggested that St. Thomas More, who had been condemned to death in that same hall, was a model for Church-state relations. At Lambeth Palace, speaking to Anglican bishops with the Archbishop of Canterbury at his side, he proposed Blessed John Henry Newman as a model for ecumenical affairs. Now obviously if St. Thomas More was right, then King Henry was wrong to have him executed, and to break with the Holy See. If Cardinal Newman was right, then today’s Anglican prelates can make themselves right by entering the Catholic Church. The Pope did not draw out these conclusions, but his implications were inescapable.
Indeed, the impact of Pope Benedict’s message to Great Britain was heightened by the things he did not say—because he did not need to say them. In his address to Anglican prelates he did not focus on Anglicanorum Coetibus, with its bold invitation for Anglicans to enter into the Catholic Church. But surely that apostolic constitution was on the minds of the Anglican bishops who were listening as he spoke about the path to Christian unity. At Westminster Hall, when he praised the anti-slavery crusade led by William Wilberforce, he did not mention today’s battle to end abortion, but only a very dull politician would fail to notice the parallel. When he mentioned that Westminster Abbey is dedicated to St. Peter, he could rely on those who listened to realize that St. Peter’s successor was now in the building. And when he recalled the great heritage of British Christianity dating back to the times of St. Edward the Confessor and the Venerable Bede, it required very little imagination to notice that those happy days were before the split that gave rise to the Church of England.
Throughout the trip, Pope Benedict was quietly, humbly, but persistently staking a claim. He was not coming to Britain as a visitor from outside, hoping to be welcomed by the nation’s leaders. He was claiming, as St. Peter’s successor, to be the rightful moral leader of this old Christian society. He was inviting Britain to end its 400-year flirtation with Protestantism and reclaim its Catholic heritage. He was promising that a nation founded on the truths of the Catholic faith could be a prosperous, pluralistic, and successful modern society.
The Pope was making an astonishingly bold series of claims, really. He made them with disarming humility, so that his audiences did not take offense. Still the challenges were unmistakable. Now with the Pope back in Rome, a stunned British society has time to digest the papal message, to realize the implications of what he said, to sit up and think.
The full text is at: http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/articles.cfm?id=462