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

AP , VATICAN CITY

Thu, Apr 21, 2005 - Page 6

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.

Ratzinger also lacks the pastoral qualities that made John Paul so beloved. He is a bookish theologian who surprised thousands by choking up as he delivered John Paul's funeral homily -- a rare glimpse of emotion.

Even Ratzinger's brother, Georg, said his brother would be an "entirely different" Pope than John Paul.

"They had a good relationship, but he [Ratzinger] wouldn't have the faculty to deal with people in such a direct and immediate way and to fascinate them," he told the German TV station RTL this week.

But Pham and other Vatican watchers also say that there is more to Ratzinger than the world has seen in the past two decades, noting his love of music -- he is an accomplished pianist -- and his solid credentials as a scholar.

Ratzinger's writings and comments give a hint about what his papacy will bring.

He has opposed Turkey's bid to join the EU and dismissed demands for European "multiculturalism" as a "fleeing from what is one's own."

He has also made sure John Paul's efforts to reach out to other religions didn't overstep certain bounds. His 2000 decree "Dominus Iesus," which framed the role of the Catholic Church in human salvation in an exclusive manner, upset Protestants, Jews and other non-Christians.

Ratzinger further rankled other Christians when he said he didn't want Protestant churches referred to as "sister churches" by Catholics.

Ratzinger has written that Jews were "connected with God in a special way." But in his book God and the World, he also said "We wait for the instant in which Israel will say yes to Christ."

He has spoken out positively about Islam, saying it has had "moments of great splendor."

While Ratzinger criticized the media for focusing too much on the sins of priests involved in the church sex abuse scandal, he excoriated the "filth" in the church in a meditation he penned for the Good Friday Way of the Cross procession.