AMIDST THE MEDIA’S attempts to sling mud at Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most prominent Catholic youth leaders in Germany has chimed in with lackluster words about the reigning pontiff. Dirk Tänzler, the head of the BDKJ, the umbrella group of German Catholic youth organizations, gave an interview to Der Spiegel, the prominent weekly news magazine with a circulation of over one million. Asked his verdict of the so-far five years of Pope Benedict’s reign, Tänzler responded with the word “ambivalent”. Contrasting Benedict XVI with John Paul II — a “showmaster” — the BDKJ head said that, despite some good points, “a lot of young people often simply don’t understand him”. “Most have a different idea of how to live their lives than the pope might imagine for them. There is no ‘Generation Benedict.'”
But are Tänzler’s thoughts an accurate reflection of the state of Catholic youth in Germany or elsewhere? Over a million young people travelled to Cologne to experience World Youth Day with the new pontiff in 2005. (The following WYD held in Sydney in 2008, unfortunately offers little comparison given the relative isolation of Australia). Everywhere the Pope has travelled, such as to the Czech Republic last year, or France and the United States in 2008, vast multitudes of youth have greeted him, often waiting hours for the privilege.
Significantly, young people in Western countries have proved responsive to the Pope’s message in defiance of the collective anti-Christian persuasion of the dominant cultural forces in their lands. The permanent and vituperative media campaign against Pope Benedict has proved counter-productive: younger people have long ceased to place their trust in the princes of the press and instead take part in more diffused information-gathering networks via the internet. This may have escaped Herr Tänzler who, despite being the head of an umbrella group of Catholic youth, is in his early 40s.
Tänzler’s claims have not gone unchallenged, particularly as there is actually an organization of German Catholics which has taken the name ‘Generation Benedict’. One German blogger cited a note from a friend, who is “shocked” about the BDKJ’s claim to speak for all Catholic youth in Germany (if my interpretation of Google’s rather muddled German translation has any accuracy whatsoever). “Apparently those outside of these groups [who make up the BDKJ] are not Catholics,” Benedict-fan Ulrich writes, quipping “Outside the BDKJ, there is no salvation.”
When asked by Der Speigel if he had considered leaving the Church, Tänzler said he had “never even toyed with this idea” but gave as the reason for his certitude not a confidence in the truth of the Church’s claims but instead the rather paltry reason that he is “convinced that the Church and faith are good for society”.
The BDKJ leader did offer some complimentary words in his interview. Tänzler cited Benedict’s “significant contribution” to the Copenhagen climate change conference and the emphasis on justice and love in the social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, and also complimented the Vatican’s efforts to make use of new social media like YouTube and Twitter.
One might suggest that, having reached his forty-first year of age, it might be time Herr Tänzler finally put away the things of a child — except that an enthusiasm for the Holy Father is today a more reliable sign of youth rather than age.