It is often humorous to observe how the media attempts to pigeonhole the Pope, the Faith and the Church into neat little Western political categories. A change that can be interpreted as abandoning a traditional belief, could mean the Pope is a liberal. Or else, the 'change' could be merely part of a master plan to infiltrate society and bring all to follow his conservative agenda.
What is truly astonishing about the Newsweek article by Matthew Philips is his perception that the Pope is somehow burning theological bridges and dismantling doctrines. Mr Philips seems to believe this even though he himself admits that "Limbo has never been official church doctrine" . Yet the tone of the article is that some significant change has occurred and therefore the Pope is not conservative.
Mr Philips is mistaken on several points (including the role of Limbo in theology and history) and thus retreats to secular political terms to conclude that the Pope is "less conservative" than thought. For him, any dynamic change in the presentation of Church teaching, or clarification that something is not really Church teaching, can only mean a leaning towards liberalism since conservatism would not admit for such a change, and therefore the Pope cannot be a true conservative.
(It is also interesting, that the Newsweek article seems to claim, almost in passing, that infant Baptism is a result of belief in limbo! It says, "For this reason, Roman Catholics have traditionally baptized their children as soon as they could after birth, and Catholic missionaries have circumnavigated the globe, emphasizing baptism as the key to salvation." And all this time I thought it was because our Lord commanded Baptism!)
While Mr Philip sees the Pope as at least a moderate, over at the Huffington Post a piece by by Jeffrey Robbins finds the Limbo issue to be confirmation that the Pope is an “arch-conservative”.
Indeed Benedict, who before he became the pope was known as an arch-conservative and the enforcer of Catholic orthodoxy, is showing yet again that he is as astute as a politician as he is precise as a theologian, for with his conservative bona fides long since established, he is now able to wrap himself in the cloak of a certain kind of compassionate conservatism.
(Note, yet another attempt to pigeonhole Church teaching into political terms!)
It is Mr Robbins's opinion that
"Benedict has effectively written off the European and American church where the "dictatorship of relativism" is most pronounced, allowing it to wither away on the vine with the hope that a new remnant of the pure and stalwart might take its place. Dan Brown styled conspiracy theories notwithstanding, this is an invitation to Opus Dei and other likeminded groups to claim the future of the Roman Catholic Church.”
("Opus Dei and other likeminded groups" are apparently outside agitators, theological terrorists, or doctrinal insurgents; not true members of the Church.)
The Holy Father is thus to be condemned as an "arch-conservative" precisely because of his challenge to relativism. Mr Robbins charges that "in his inaugural sermon as pope, Benedict famously rallied the church against what he deemed were the evils of relativism (along with liberalism and socialism)." Mr Robbins, on the other hand, believes that "the truth of our history is that the church is not, nor has it ever been, uniform, but diverse, that its teachings were not eternal, but time and culture specific...." Therefore, since his own view is true -- because it is relativistic -- and since this is equated with liberalism, the Holy Father's views must be both false and indicative of arch-conservatism.
So who is right?
Mr Philips or Mr Robbins?
The Holy Father is neither liberal nor conservative. He is a Christian.
Limbo was ever but a speculative hope that unbaptized infants would enjoy a state of natural peace and happiness somewhat if less than heaven at least far from being a punishment. And the report of the International Theological Commission notes that the Church continues to believe "there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation." (The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, available by subscription in Origins.)
Thanks to Newsweek and the Huffington Post, I can now rest easy knowing that the Pope is an arch-conservative liberal!