A Conservative Pope ; Tuesday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany Was Chosen to Become the 265th Pope

By Peter Ford and Sophie Arie | The Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2005 | Go to article overview

A Conservative Pope ; Tuesday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany Was Chosen to Become the 265th Pope


Peter Ford and Sophie Arie, The Christian Science Monitor


Roman Catholics around the world reacted with a mixture of shock and joy to the announcement Tuesday evening that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, one of the most conservative and doctrinally orthodox of the church's cardinals, had been elected as the next pope.

Church bells pealed throughout Rome just after six o'clock, echoing the great bell of St. Peter's, calling hundreds of thousands of people to St, Peter's Square to celebrate Cardinal Ratzinger's surprise elevation to the head of the Catholic Church.

In the second-shortest conclave in a century, the 115 cardinal electors chose one of the late John Paul II's closest advisers - at 78, the oldest pope elected since 1730 - to lead the 1.1 billion- strong Roman Catholic Church.

Though many observers had expected the cardinals to pick a more- moderate figure in order to unite the church's various factions, the fact that John Paul II had named 113 of the electors always made it probable they would name a man in the late pontiff's theological mold.

Mr. Ratzinger's election marks "a clear vote for continuity and, if anything, an even stronger hand on the tiller," says Father Thomas Reese, editor of a Jesuit magazine. "We won't see a change in teaching or policies. This was a vote for continued centralization of the church, and controlling of any kind of dissent and discussion."

That pleased some of those who gathered in front of St. Peter's for a first look at the 265th pope. "I thought it would be him," said Georges Barimousirwe, a Catholic seminarian visiting Rome from Congo. "He is very severe; we need a man who can put the church back into its place."

Waving from a balcony to a screaming crowd in St. Peter's Square less than an hour after billowing white smoke from the Vatican roof had signalled his election, a smiling Ratzinger, who took the papal name Benedict XVI, entrusted himself to the prayers of the faithful, saying that "after the great pope John Paul II, the cardinals have chosen me, a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."

In 23 years as the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer, Ratzinger developed a reputation as a deeply convinced conservative, who discouraged experimentation or modernization of Catholic thought. He became highly unpopular with progressive theologians, some of whom were excommunicated or forbidden to teach as a result of Ratzinger's judgments.

At the same time, the new pope - the first from Germany in more than a thousand years - is known as a quiet and thoughtful man, endowed with personal charm, more interested in ideas than in action and a teacher who speaks ten languages, rather than an administrator.

Born in Bavaria in 1927, Ratzinger first won attention as a liberal theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council (1962- 1965), which modernized the church. The Marxism and atheism that partly inspired the 1968 student protests across Europe, however, pushed him to the right, convincing him of the need to defend the faith against rising secularism.

In his sermon at the Mass held Monday just before the cardinals retired to the Sistine Chapel for their conclave, he thundered against what he called "the dictatorship of relativism" in the modern world, which he said jumped "from one extreme to the other, from Marxism to liberalism , up to libertinism, from collectivism to radical individualism, from atheism to a vague religious mysticism.

"To have a clear faith, according to the church's creed is today often labeled fundamentalism," he added.

After stints as a leading theology professor and then archbishop of Munich, Ratzinger was appointed head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the successor office to the Inquisition, in 1981.

In that office, Ratzinger became the scourge of progressive supporters of liberation theology in the developing world, banning some of them from teaching and excommunicating others - earning the sobriquet among critics as "God's rottweiler. …

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