Germany’s Joseph Ratzinger was electedthe 265th pope of the Roman Catholic Church on Tuesday andwill take the name Benedict XVI, the Vatican announced.The name of the 78-year-old Ratzinger was announced to acrowd of around 100,000 pilgrims by Cardinal Jorge MedinaEstevez of Chile, the senior cardinal deacon, from thebalcony of St Peter’s Basilica.
When the name of the new pope was announced, some members ofthe crowd cheered, but others were disappointed. In ahopeful note, Benedict XV was known as a pope ofreconciliation in the early part of the 20th Century,because of his ability to balance the needs of both liberaland conservative Catholics.
When he was a priest, Cardinal Ratzinger entered the spiritof moderation that prevailed during Vatican II withwholehearted enthusiasm. Since, he has become more and moreconservative, and has most recently been theultra-conservative head of theCongregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly knownas the Inquisition. On Sunday, he declared in his homily atSunday mass: “”Having a clear faith, based on the creed ofthe church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism.Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed andswept along by every wind of teaching, looks like the onlyattitude acceptable to today’s standards.”
This is seems to be a signal that he intends to take the complexand diverse Catholic Church in a direction that willforcefully reject all attempts at change. He may bean even more doctrinaire pope that John PaulII.
The church has been seriously damaged in the U.S., Ireland,Austria, Canada and Australia by scandals involving priestlypederasty. Cardinal Ratzinger is on the record as deploringthis activity, but has also supported Vatican efforts toprotect and shelter accused priests.
Since the accession of John Paul II, Catholic churchgoing inGermany has declined 60%, and there are now so few priestsleft in France that many younger Catholics have neveractually seen one. Most churches in Italy stand virtuallyempty on Sundays. Even traditionally staunch Catholiccountries like Ireland and Poland have seen declines inchurchgoing of 20% or more in recent years.
Among many third world Catholics, the church’s teaching onbirth control is viewed as being out of touch withreality because it forbids the use of condoms even toprevent the spread of AIDS, and Cardinal Ratzinger is likelyto not onlyreaffirm it, but to make efforts to destroy any resistanceto this or any other church policy. He has long been anadvocate, much more than John Paul, of proactivelyexcommunicating Catholics who do not follow Vatican rules inevery detail.
During the last US presidential election, he called onpriests not to give Democratic presidential candidate JohnKerry communion because of his stands on abortion and birthcontrol.
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