Thu, Apr 21, 2005 - Page 6 News List

New Pope Benedict XVI to follow a conservative path

DOGMATIC German Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI, was elected head of the church for his traditional views on abortion and homosexuality


German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger holds a glass of beer during his visit at the Bavarian cloister Andechs in this 1998 file photo. Ratzinger of Germany has been elected Pope to lead the Roman Catholic Church, a cardinal announced on Tuesday. He has chosen Pope Benedict XVI as his papal name, the cardinal said.

A day before he was elected Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made clear the type of church he wanted: one that rigidly maintained the doctrines he himself had upheld as guardian of church orthodoxy, where there were absolute truths on matters such as abortion, celibacy and homosexuality.

With his election Tuesday in one of the fastest papal votes in a century, Pope Benedict XVI will most certainly build upon the uncompromising hard line on doctrine that he charted under Pope John Paul II.

His election will thrill conservatives seeking a consolidation of John Paul's policies. It will alienate more liberal Catholics, particularly in Europe and North America, who had hoped that after 26 years, a more progressive Pope might take the helm of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

And it will likely temper hopes around the world of improved relations with other religions.

"If he continues as Pope the way he was as a cardinal, I think we will see a polarized church," said David Gibson, a former Vatican Radio reporter and author of The Coming Catholic Church.

"He has said himself that he wanted a smaller but purer church," Gibson said, referring to Ratzinger's suggestion that Christianity may need to become smaller, in terms of its cultural significance, to remain true to itself.

As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981 and a close aide to John Paul, Ratzinger wielded enormous power in shaping church policy, silencing dissident theologians and signing off on virtually every document that had to do with doctrine.

During his tenure, the Vatican was uncompromising in its opposition to ordaining women, homosexuality and lifting the celibacy requirement for priests. Ratzinger opposed allowing remarried Catholics to receive Communion and told American bishops that it was appropriate to deny Communion to those who support such "manifest grave sin" as abortion and euthanasia.

Those policies will continue under Benedict XVI, who in celebrating the pre-conclave Mass on Monday made clear that the next Pope shouldn't bow to the "winds of doctrine" that tempted the faithful to stray from the core beliefs of the church.

"The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves, thrown from one extreme to the other," he said, listing Marxism, liberalism, atheism and relativism -- the ideology that there are no absolute truths.

The homily was classic Ratzinger, and clear evidence that at least doctrinally, the church he will lead will not divert from current teaching.

"Obviously a majority of the cardinals agreed with the analysis that in order to consolidate John Paul's legacy, the final part had to be done," said John-Peter Pham, a former Vatican official and author on papal succession.

But the style of the Benedict XVI papacy will likely be vastly different from that of John Paul, the personable archbishop of Krakow, Poland, who trotted the globe and brought a movie-star quality to the papacy.

Most importantly, Ratzinger is 78 -- two decades older than John Paul was when he was elected in 1978 -- and his health last year was "not that good" according to the Reverend Thomas Reese, a Vatican expert. He gave no specifics.

As a result, Ratzinger's papacy will be viewed as a shorter, transitional one.

"In a few years, we could be right back where we were, with a sick, elderly even perhaps dying Pope," Reese, editor of the Jesuit weekly America magazine said in an interview before the election.

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