A conservative pope

Tuesday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany was chosen to become the 265th pope.

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."

"Liberals will be very disappointed" says John Cornwell, a progressive Catholic and biographer of John Paul II. "Ratzinger is a centralizer - it means more of the same."

That is just what conservative Catholics had been hoping for. Ratzinger "is the last great European theologian" said Rocco Buttiglione, a close friend of John Paul II and former Italian cabinet minister. He is "a man with a heart and also a very cultured man. He will continue the path that [John Paul II] set out on, taking the church to maturity."

In 1986, Ratzinger issued a firm Vatican denunciation of homosexuality and gay marriage. He brought pressure in the 1990s against theologians, mostly in Asia, who saw non-Christian religions as part of God's plan for humanity.

A 2004 document sternly denounced "radical feminism" as an ideology that undermined the family and obscured the natural differences between men and women.

His combative side came out in 2000 in a dispute over a CDF document entitled Dominus Iesus. Aimed at restating the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church against the more inclusive views in Asia, it branded other Christian denominations as deficient or not quite real churches.

Anglican, Lutheran, and other Protestant churches which had been in ecumenical dialogue with Rome for years were shocked. They were further upset when Ratzinger dismissed protests from Lutherans as "absurd."

He raised eyebrows again with unusually sharp criticism of the church when he took the pope's place at a Good Friday Mass in 2005. "How much filth there is in the church, even among those who, in the priesthood, should belong entirely to Him. How much pride, how much self-sufficiency," he said.

Reactions around the world were mixed. "I am absolutely speechless, I would never have guessed this," said Rainer Kampling, a theological expert at the Free University, in Berlin. "He's a transitional pope. I think his time will be marked by a polarization of the many different churches. But the most important ability a pope brings along with him is the ability to conduct a dialogue. He'll be conservative, but not reactionary. He will continue what John Paul II started."

"This comes as a bit of a surprise," says Frederic Joseph Baumgartner, a professor of history at Virginia Tech. "I would've thought he was a bit too old." Ratzinger had reportedly asked to retire several times in recent years.

"I doubt whether he'll make many changes in terms of doctrine or internal issues, Prof. Baumgartner adds. "Whether he has the same social conscience [as John Paul II] is hard to say."

"We are happy. This is to show the Catholic Church is a mixed society" says Rev. Felix Femi Ajakaye, a spokesman for Catholic church in Nigeria. "God does his own thing in his own way."

In St. Peter's Square, not all were delighted with the choice. "I feared this would happen," said Iza Sappiani, a Roman shop owner. "Ratzinger is a very closed person. I would've preferred someone more open to the problems of the people."

"I wanted the guy from Brazil, but I'm excited that we have a pope, that's all," says Susanna Johnson, who came from South Carolina to witness the naming of the new pope.

In Rio de Janeiro, the reaction was less enthusiastic. "Why haven't they made a black man pope?" Ricardo Santos da Silva, an Afro-Brazilian security guard asked only half jokingly, as he stood watching TV coverage from Rome in the bar where he works. "It's always white guys. Always the same thing."

Sophie Arie in Rome, Andreas Tzortzis in Berlin, Christian Purefoy in Lagos, N igeria, Andrew Downie in Rio de Janeiro, and Josh Burek in Boston contributed to this report. Material from Reuters was also used.

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