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Rome Reports

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Why is Benedict XVI the media's least favorite pope?

From an ordinary priest in Germany, to the oldest living Pope, Joseph Ratzinger has been a key figure in the Catholic Church for more than 50 years.

And according to Prof. Norberto González Gaitano, a public opinion specialist, no other bishop or pope in recent history has been the subject of more systematic, in-depth public scrutiny than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome)
“It's no mystery that Benedict XVI, previously Ratzinger, gets bad press. What is a mystery, at least for me, as a researcher, are the causes of this bad press. This image that exists in the media, and that has grown into a stereotype being repeated uncritically, does not coincide with the reputation he has for example in the wider culture.”

Fellow researcher, Fr. Gérome Roustaveg, is completing a thesis precisely on the topic of Ratzinger and public opinion. He traces the Pope Emeritus' bad press back to the Second Vatican Council, where Ratzinger served as a theology expert, but refused to speak to the press about the closed-door sessions.

Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome)
“The media is extremely relevant to public opinion. (Ratzinger) in some way denied the power of the media at the time (of the Second Vatican Council), in 1965. So the theologians who would go talk to the press immediately after the council sessions would give the press their own thoughts on the council.”

Ratzinger did not use the media to his advantage during Vatican II, and as a result Fr. Roustaveg says he has often been portrayed negatively by the press, despite his generally positive reputation among intellectuals and the general public.

He notes, for instance, that the number of people who attended Pope Benedict XVI's weekly audiences grew throughout his pontificate.

Among academics, Fr. Roustaveg says Benedict XVI's reputation fares better than it does in the media. The researcher has spoken to a number of scholars from different fields who have worked directly with Ratzinger and hold him in high regard.

Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome)
“Given these facts, we have to reflect. Ratzinger certainly gets bad press. But did he make a negative impression on intellectuals as well? A negative impact on public opinion, or not? We have to ask these questions to, in some way, reconcile these stereotypes about Benedict XVI, who is really a humble man, a man with a great capacity for dialogue.”

These researchers hope their work will encourage people to look beyond the headlines and at one of recent history's most revolutionary popes.