Europe, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines

RELIGION-GERMANY: Pride and Concern After Papal Election

Peter Deselaers

BERLIN, Apr 20 2005 (IPS) - Though most Germans seem to be proud that a compatriot has been elected pope, those who are reform-minded raise concerns over the ability of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now known as Pope Benedict XVI – to alter the course from his staunch conservatism.

German President Horst Koehler said the fact ”that a fellow countryman became pope fills us with great joy and also a little pride.”

According to a poll for the public television station ARD, 76 percent of German respondents were pleased that a German was elected pope, but only 63 percent considered Ratzinger a good choice, while 23 percent objected. The polling institute Infratest dimap surveyed around 500 Germans.

The Bavarian-born Ratzinger, 78, was chosen as the Roman Catholic Church’s 265th leader on Tuesday by the 155 cardinals of the papal conclave. He is the first German pope in nearly a thousand years.

Many politicians honoured the theologian Ratzinger as one of the most important Catholic thinkers in the world, but avoided addressing the contents of his writings and his actions.

The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZDK), an organisation of Catholic laity, congratulated the new pope. ”We hope he will fill his papacy with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council,” said Theodor Bolzenius, ZDK spokesman, referring to the 1960s meetings’ call for openness to the world and a strengthening of local churches.

Father Wolfgang Seibel, a Jesuit priest, told IPS that he was surprised by the election of Ratzinger. ”It is very uncommon that a conclave selects someone who has been the head of one of the most important church departments (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) for over twenty years in the previous papacy,” he said.

Seibel also did not expect a German to be elected due to the country’s Nazi past. Furthermore, he said, Germany was associated with discipline and bureaucracy – characteristics he thought were not greatly esteemed in the world.

Once a chief editor of a theology review, Seibel said it was very unlikely that Ratzinger would go beyond the limits established by John Paul II on topics such as participation of women in the church, celibacy, acceptance of homosexuality and the treatment of divorce.

”Most people are not very flexible at the age of 78 anymore,” he added.

Priest Bernd Klaschka, executive director of the Catholic aid organisation for Latin America, Adveniat, told IPS that he did not expect reforms from the new pope. He hoped that Benedict XVI would allow the churches around the world to continue in diversity and that he would be different as a pope than as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

”I hope he will be able to accept his new role and function,” Klaschka said.

His wish for the new pope was that the Church in Latin America, which ”opted to work with the poor and to stand up for human dignity”, could continue in that field. ”We want to have a continued solidarity through the Church,” Klaschka said, adding that he did not foresee any problems in that regard.

In his work for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger had effectively silenced several priests who followed the Liberation Theology movement in Latin America, including Brazil’s Leonardo Boff. The movement called for the Church to be more politically and socially involved.

Klaschka pointed out that Ratzinger’s vision of the Church was a purely transcendental. ”He clearly said that the nature of the Church was neither political nor social.” None of the cardinal’s nearly 200 books were about social pastoral, said the priest.

”I hope he will also continue the option of John Paul II to be the voice of the voiceless and to be the lawyer of those have no lawyer,” said Klaschka, who worked several years in Mexico.

Before entering the conclave, Ratzinger – still being cardinal – delivered a sermon in which he criticised ”radical individualism” and ”the dictatorship of pluralism”. If that was a sign for the new pope’s direction, said Jesuit priest Seibel, ”his aim would then be a clear differentiation from the modern world – not a dialogue.”

Seibel also pointed out that Ratzinger had focussed exclusively on problems of the Western world and that the choice of his papal name seemed to point in the same direction. Saint Benedict founded the first Catholic monastery in the 6th century and played a crucial role in spreading Christianity throughout Europe.

Republish | | Print |