The passing on Saturday morning of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was greeted with a familiar litany of liberal griping about the “strict,” “rigid” “hardline” Pope’s stance on ecclesiastical issues, with ABC, CBS and NBC all reminding viewers that as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he had been tagged “God’s Rottweiler” by critics.
CBS correspondent Chris Livesay went so far as to say Ratzinger had “earned” the insulting nickname: “He entered the priesthood after the war, rose to become a cardinal, and earned the nickname ‘God’s Rottweiler’ as a rigid enforcer of church policy.”
On NBC, reporter Anne Thompson described Cardinal Ratzinger as “cartoonish” before his elevation to the papacy: “Benedict came with a cartoonish reputation. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger under John Paul, critics branded him ‘God’s Rottweiler,’ a strict conservative theologian.”
Over on ABC, correspondent Terry Moran at least pointed out that the “Rottweiler” slam originated with Church liberals, but he still saw a “hard line” in the Pope’s refusal to drop longstanding doctrines: “Cardinal Ratzinger was one of Pope John Paul II’s closest confidantes, his chief authority on church doctrine and enforcer of a conservative vision for the church — ‘God’s Rottweiler’ he was dubbed by some Catholic liberals....On matters of personal morality, Benedict took a hard line reaffirming the Church’s traditional teachings regarding contraception, abortion and the celibate all-male priesthood....”
The coverage was virtually identical to that which accompanied the “arch-conservative” Benedict’s election nearly 18 years ago. On the April 19, 2005 CBS Evening News, correspondent Mark Phillips fretted that “in choosing Joseph Ratzinger, the cardinals picked the most polarizing figure in the Catholic Church. No one was more respected as a student of theology, but no one was more feared as a chief enforcer of Vatican orthodoxy....”
“There’s widespread doubt here [in Ratzinger’s native Germany] that he will be able to overcome his reputation as the intimidating enforcer, punishing liberal thinkers and keeping the Church in the Middle Ages,” ABC News producer Christel Kucharz slammed during her network’s live coverage that same day.
And when Pope Benedict visited the U.S. in 2008, the media spin was identical: “At the Vatican, he developed a reputation as a brilliant theologian, and also a hard-liner, strenuously condemning divorce, homosexuality and abortion. As Pope John Paul’s lieutenant, he earned nicknames like ‘Cardinal No,’ and ‘God’s Rottweiler,’” ABC weekend anchor Dan Harris said on World News Sunday back on April 13, 2008.
Here is video from NBC’s Today this morning referring to Benedict as “cartoonish,” followed by partial transcripts of Saturday morning’s broadcast network coverage of Benedict’s death (click expand):
# ABC’s Good Morning America,
December 31, 2022 7:03am ET
TERRY MORAN: The news came this morning that Pope Benedict XVI had died at 9:34am local time in Rome after Pope Francis earlier this week had asked for prayers for his predecessor, and now the world will mourn, millions of people around the world mourning a man who championed a fierce conservative and traditionalist view of the church, but who changed the modern papacy by one of the most radical acts any Pope has ever done, resigning.
MORAN: Cardinal Ratzinger was one of Pope John Paul II’s closest confidantes, his chief authority on church doctrine and enforcer of a conservative vision for the church — ‘God’s Rottweiler’ he was dubbed by some Catholic liberals.
MORAN: On matters of personal morality, Benedict took a hard line reaffirming the Church’s traditional teachings regarding contraception, abortion and the celibate all-male priesthood, but this was a Pope who also preached widely on the centrality of love and hope in the Catholic faith.
# CBS Saturday Morning
December 31, 2022, 8:06am ET
CHRIS LIVESAY: Born Joseph Ratzinger in a small German town in 1927, he was forced to join the Hitler Youth at age 14, and in 1943 was conscripted into an anti-aircraft unit in the German army. He deserted and was taken prisoner by the Americans. He entered the priesthood after the war, rose to become a cardinal, and earned the nickname ‘God’s Rottweiler’ as a rigid enforcer of church policy.
# NBC’s Today
December 31, 2022, 7:06am ET
ANNE THOMPSON: Pope Emeritus Benedict was a scholar. He was a strict enforcer of Catholic doctrine, and he was the first Pope to meet with abuse victims. But he will be defined by a shocking and courageous act: Stepping down from the papacy.
THOMPSON: For Benedict XVI, the role of Pope was not a natural fit. An academic, he wanted to retire to his native Bavaria to write books. Instead, at age 78, he was elected to succeed John Paul II, one of the most influential and charismatic popes in history. Benedict came with a cartoonish reputation. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger under John Paul, critics branded him ‘God’s Rottweiler,’ a strict conservative theologian. Yet the oldest man elected pope in nearly three centuries took on modern issues: Defending the Catholic faith against relativism; opposing women priests and homosexuality; speaking out against climate change and putting solar panels on the Vatican. Benedict led the church into social media, using an iPad to send his first tweet, joining Facebook, setting up a YouTube channel....