RELIGION: It Had to Be Ratzinger After All

Elisa Marincola

ROME, Apr 19 2005 (IPS) - All the bells in Rome were pealing as cardinals elected Joseph Ratzinger the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

All the bells in Rome were pealing as cardinals elected Joseph Ratzinger the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Ratzinger, who will be known as Pope Benedict XVI, turned 78 three days back. It was quite a week for him as he appeared at the main balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and gave his first blessing, the Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world).

“After the great Pope John Paul II the cardinals elected me, a simple, humble worker in the vineyards of the Lord,” said the new Pope. “It consoles me that the Lord is able to work with inadequate instruments, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers,” he said, speaking in Italian. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome.

On this date, April 19, the Church honours St. Leo IX who was pope from the year 1049 to 1054. That pope was a standard bearer of the great Papal Revolution that helped refashion the Church and the West at the beginning of the second millennium.

Like the new Pope who has taken over the Church at the beginning of the third millennium, he was a German. The Catholic world and many outside it will be watching to see what changes the new Pope brings.

Joseph Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927 to a family of traditional farmers in Lower Bavaria in Germany. He studied theology and philosophy at the University of Munich and at the higher school in Freising from 1946 to 1951.

He was ordained priest on June 29, 1951. Four years later he qualified as a university teacher in theology. In 1969 he became professor of theology and of the history of dogma at the University of Regensburg. He became also vice-president of the university.

He joined the Vatican Council II in 1962 at the age of 35. The Vatican Council II was set up to democratise and decentralise the Vatican, and Ratzinger was considered one of the progressive members. Some dubbed him a ‘council teenager’ along with theologian Hans Kueng.

After the Council ended in 1965 he turned to more conservative positions, and the friendship with Kueng ended.

In March 1977 Pope Paul VI appointed him Archbishop of Munich and Freising, and later that year he was proclaimed cardinal.

He was already considered a frontrunner in both conclaves held in 1978 after the death of Paul VI and then of John Paul I who died after just 34 days in office. But he supported John Paul II, who returned the favour by appointing him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the doctrinal watchdog of the Church. He led this powerful body until the death of John Paul II.

Ratzinger was always likely to become Pope. This is one time that the old saying ‘who enters the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal’ proved false. His rapid selection as Pope meant he received considerable support from cardinals in a more international Church.

But many among the faithful were astonished at the selection. They had thought John Paul II would be the last anti-modern pope. Ratzinger was John Paul II’s inspirer, or at least his right-hand man.

There could be something in a name as Ratzinger took on the name Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict XV who reigned from September 1914 to January 1922 had reaffirmed the condemnation of modernism in the Church. He promulgated the Canon Law, which imposes rules based on religious principles in family matters.

Pope Benedict XVI is known as nothing if not a man of the most firmly conservative views. He was the driving force behind the crackdown on liberation theology, ordination of women and any moves towards accepting homosexuality during the papacy of John Paul II.

In 2000 he published ‘Dominus Jesus’ (Lord Jesus) in which he said that “eternal salvation is only in the Catholic church”, and attacked any dialogue with other Christian churches.

On Monday morning before the conclave began he presided over the ‘missa pro eligendo romano pontifice’ (for electing the pope) and delivered a sermon in which he condemned modernity.

But he is known to be worried about the state of the Church. On Good Friday he spoke of “dirt” and the “arrogance” within the Church. Despite his reputation as a fierce enforcer of orthodoxy, and nicknames such as Der Panzerkardinal (Panzer was a German tank in World War II), he also has considerable charisma. And he has spoken of more autonomy for the clergy despite his record of putting down dissent.

There is much disappointment over his election, but through that some hope too. “Undoubtedly this is a demonstration of great consent inside the ecclesiastical hierarchy,” Sergio Marelli, president of the Catholic NGOs Federation told IPS. “I think his election is a sign of continuity with the last papacy.”

Enzo Mazzi, a priest who leads the progressive Christian community L’Isolotto in Florence said the new Pope might surprise his critics. “Now he has reached his goal,” he told IPS, and “freed by any conditioning, hopefully he will return to his original progressive thoughts.” Ratzinger’s harsh words against modernity, however, do not seem to point that way.

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RELIGION: It Had to Be Ratzinger After All

Elisa Marincola

ROME, Apr 19 2005 (IPS) - All the bells in Rome were pealing as cardinals elected Joseph Ratzinger the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Republish | | Print |

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