|Brennan Pursell, author of “Benedict of Bavaria,” published by Circle Press.|
Center Valley, PA. May 6, 2008. Brennan Pursell’s new book
“Benedict of Bavaria” (Circle Press) gave him extensive
media exposure in the days of the Pope’s visit to
the United States. After 58 radio interviews, 18 newspaper and
magazine interviews, and 3 television interviews, Pursell has a firsthand
sense of how well the media, in particular, have grasped
the Pope’s message. In the following interview, author Brennan Pursell
explores the impact of the Pope’s visit to the United
States and shares his own perspective on what Benedict XVI
can teach those who take the time to get to
You have been interviewed by almost 80 radio, television,
and print media since the days of Pope Benedict´s visit
to the United States. How well do you think the
media has grasped the Pope´s message for the American people?
This is a good, important question, and we simply can´t
avoid dividing the media into secular and Catholic. Just according
to my limited experience, Catholic media listened to Pope Benedict
XVI´s clear message and understood, hands down: Got it, Your
Secular media, however, depends almost entirely on the predilections
of the interviewer. Some journalists are really interested and want
to depict the Holy Father´s message in the context of
contemporary American society. Many unfortunately cannot escape the secular media´s
five-sided obsession (sex, money, violence, celebrity, and great shows of
emotion); these were interested only in the sex abuse crisis
and really little else. Others just have it in for
the Church and laid into me about this and that.
Finally, there were a handful of general Christian outlets with
wildly different attitudes. A couple represented our most well-meaning Protestant
brethren, another was sulky and resentful, and then there was
a shouty evangelical in Seattle who hurled about biblical quotes
and Martin Luther´s sixteenth-century slogans, apparently thinking that would get
All in all it was a wild ride.
Do you think that the media has learned to see
the Pope in a different way now that he has
come to our country?
Good Heavens, I hope
so! Let´s pray that the nonsensical caricatures about Joseph Cardinal
Ratzinger are gone for good! Can anyone in their right
mind now claim that Benedict XVI, having heard and watched
him, is comparable to a German shepherd, a rottweiler (or
any other canine), a prosecutor, an enforcement officer, a tank,
or what have you? I met a number of priests
who told me, quite openly, how disappointed they were when
they first heard of his election three years ago. Now,
they said, their minds have changed, totally.
And no, Ratzinger
is no different now as Benedict than he was before,
in thought, word, and deed. His position in the Church
has changed, obviously, which accounts for the outpouring of joy
that meets him wherever he goes.
Even the grave Wolf
Blitzer on CNN went on for about ten minutes, grinning
ear to ear, telling how he, a non-Catholic, met the
Pope, how he just couldn´t describe how he felt, how
it was a truly unique, indescribable moment in his life,
how even he just couldn´t think of anything to say,
and how he would never forget it.
Watching that, I
couldn´t help thinking, "Well, heck, he is the Vicar of
Christ after all."
What, in your opinion, is
the single most important message that the Pope came to
give the American people?
The same as the
core message of his pontificate: that God is love, and
this love is everything true, good, noble, and beautiful. It
shows us the way forward through a world of sin
and pain and suffering. It gives us a real, definite
hope, and, when we devote our lives to it, in
this hope we are saved.
What aspect of Pope Benedict´s
personality do you think could teach us (Americans) the most
His humility is exemplary, and is
part and parcel with his reserved temperament. I could not
find a single source that showed him lose his temper.
One rather critical journalist wrote gleefully, "I know he was
furious, I saw him roll his eyes." Roll his eyes?
Furiously, at that? Aha. This is not to say that
Benedict never gave into his temper in his life. I
just could not find anyone claiming to have seen or
hear him do so. He strives to live the teaching
of St. Francis de Sales, that anger never serves any
good purpose, unless it is genuinely righteous and against our
own sinfulness, and even then we must keep it in
I am not saying that we Americans are an
angry people, but I think many of us could benefit
from a bit more self-restraint in most walks of life.
How did your experience of writing Benedict of
Bavaria change or enrich you?
The book was
a gift, born of prayer. Researching it was the purest
kind of pleasure. It wrote itself, really. My prayer life
is now richer, deeper, more heart-felt, and yet simpler. My
love for the Church and humanity has grown, too. I
can´t say how or why. I don´t pretend to understand
these things, I just thank God for the gift of
Which of Pope Benedict´s (or Cardinal Ratzinger´s)
books would you most recommend for beginning readers and why?
Still, although it is nearly a dozen years
old, one of the best ways to meet the mind
of Benedict XVI is Salt of the Earth, an interview
he gave, as Cardinal Ratzinger, to a journalist who had
it in for him. Afterwards, the man returned to the
Church. The text is an accessible conversation, and you can
easily see Ratzinger´s great mind and gentle heart at work
together. (Skip the section on the Church in Germany if
it goes on too long.)
Then there is the next
installment, so to speak, another dialogue with the same journalist,
now a faithful Catholic, about a wide range of subjects.
That book, God and the World, shows you the enormous
breadth of Benedict´s learning. As it goes on effortlessly, you
have to remind yourself that it is a transcription of
an interview conducted in a single weekend. Ratzinger never stopped
to look up anything. His answers are clear, authoritative, and
uplifting. No editor needed, really. The man is a genius.
What do you think this Pope´s legacy to
the world will be?
One Catholic radio host
told me we have a future Doctor of the Church
on our hands. That may be going a bit far,
as one has to be a canonized saint first. The
Spirit is in charge of that one, as in all
things. But I think Benedict XVI and John Paul the
Great together, through their encyclicals, their other speeches and writings,
and the splendid new Catechism, will calm the turbulence in
the wake of the Second Vatican Council, as far as
history allows it.
The Church is always facing one crisis
or another, as many within as from without. History will
only end when God wills it, and until that time,
humanity´s freedom of the will, that God gives us, will
keep things, shall we say, more than interesting.