Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Enter Pope Benedict XVI

VATICAN CITY (April 19) - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, the church's leading hard-liner, was elected the new pope Tuesday evening in the first conclave of the new millennium. He chose the name Pope Benedict XVI and called himself ''a simple, humble worker.''

Ratzinger, the first German pope since the 11th century, emerged onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, where he waved to a wildly cheering crowd of tens of thousands and gave his first blessing as pope. Other cardinals clad in their crimson robes came out on other balconies to watch him. ''Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me - a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,'' he said after being introduced by Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estivez. ''The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers,'' the new pope said. ''I entrust myself to your prayers.''

The crowd responded by chanting ''Benedict! Benedict!'' If the new pope was paying tribute to the last pontiff of that name, it could be interpreted as a bid to soften his image as the Vatican's doctrinal hard liner. Benedict XV, who reigned from 1914 to 1922, was a moderate following Pius X, who had implemented a sharp crackdown against doctrinal ''modernism.''

Ratzinger served John Paul II since 1981 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that position, he has disciplined church dissidents and upheld church policy against attempts by liberals for reforms. He turned 78 on Saturday. The new pope had gone into the conclave with the most buzz among two dozen leading candidates. He had impressed many faithful with his stirring homily at the funeral of John Paul II, who died April 2 at age 84.

Ratzinger is the first Germanic pope since monarchs imposed four men from that region in a row in the 11th century.

I am of two minds. Well, not really. Benedict is known for his stressing personal piety and opposing any sort of equal ordination rights for women, as well as stifling ecumenical dialogue (making it a point to let Protestants know they aren't welcome at the eucharist). He's to the right of John Paul II, which is saying something.

I read the piece speculating on why he chose the name Benedict, and wonder about the softening of his image. It's one thing to choose a name to soften one's image, but actions will tell the real story.