Pope Benedict XVI seen as conservative but open

Monday, April 25, 2005
Pope Benedict XVI

VATICAN CITY ---- After only two days of secret voting by the College of Cardinals in Rome, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany was elected as the 265th pope of the Roman Catholic Church on Tuesday. He took the name of Benedict XVI.

A staunchly conservative figure within the church, Ratzinger, from Bavaria, was the longtime leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees Roman Catholic Church orthodoxy, up until his resignation in April 2005. He is known for his tough and often controversial statements on topics such as homosexuality, which he called "objectively disordered," and the validity of other Christian denominations.

As Cardinal, he has taken on everything from rock music to Muslim Turkey's European Union bid in his role as the Vatican's chief watchdog for doctrine. He may have been the only papal prospect with an online fan club.

In Italian newspapers and the hallways of the Vatican's pontifical universities the new pope is the cardinal some considered to be the Darth Vader of the Vatican bureaucracy.

As Cardinal, he has been relentless in demanding total orthodoxy around the globe, cracking down heavily on actual or perceived deviations from church teachings.

Pope Benedict's age, his membership in the Curia (the Vatican's network of administrative departments), and the shadow side of a powerful, shadowy man are believed to be some of the major factors weighing heavily in his favor.

His age ---- 78 ---- was also in his favor. The last thing the cardinals wanted ---- at least according to the buzz going around Rome ---- was another young, vigorous pope, with his bags packed, ready to travel.

Pope John Paul II's peripatetic style wore everyone out, and the feeling was that the Vatican wants to take a deep breath, regain its footing, and focus on crucial issues, rather than have a pope in office for a long time, following the 26-year reign of John Paul II.

Pope Benedict XVI's Curia membership apparently came into play. Because of John Paul II's travels, each department (or "congregation") of the Vatican became pretty much its own fiefdom ---- generally following the lines the pope drew over the years, but because of his hands-off policy, worlds unto themselves.

Vatican watchers say no one knew this better than Cardinal Ratzinger, who for years headed arguably the Vatican's most influential department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And no one is more aware of the need to give the Curia a stiff dose of discipline so they can function as a team, not individual players.

At the time of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, Cardinal Ratzinger was considered a progressive member of the hierarchy and a forward-thinking theologian. But some say he has taken on the mantle of doctrine disciplinarian because, quite frankly, that's what the boss wanted. The thinking is that Pope John Paul II powerfully "readjusted" individual personalities, but that, with his death, the person's original nature, thoughts, and vision of the church can now re-emerge.

Ratzinger seemed to signal this change with his homily at John Paul's funeral. It not only extolled the virtues of the man but pointed to the gospel as containing the marching orders for the Church.

While Pope John Paul II shut down discussion on such issues as ordination of other than celibate males, birth control, and various bioethical issues, the new pope is seen as a man who will at least hear arguments.

As John Paul II was the Cold War pope, Ratzinger is being talked about as the "postmodern" pope. Not that he is billed especially as a postmodern thinker, but he represents a Europe that has seen numbers of those attending Mass and being married or baptized in the church in sharp decline.

In a homily delivered by Cardinal Ratzinger at St. Peter's Basilica for the 40th anniversary of Gaudium Et Spes on March 18, he addressed the call to social justice saying that justice is "composed of two elements which for Christians cannot be separated; justice is the firm will to render to God what is owed to God, and to our neighbor what is owed to him; indeed, justice toward God is what we call the 'virtue of religion'; justice toward other human beings is the fundamental attitude that respects the other as a person created by God."

The former Prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and International Theological Commission, and dean of the College of Cardinals, was born on 16 April 1927, in Marktl am Inn, Germany. He was ordained a priest on 29 June 1951.

His father, a police officer, came from a traditional family of farmers from Lower Baviera. He spent his adolescent years in Traunstein, and served in the auxiliary anti-aircraft service in the last months of World War II.

From 1946 to 1951, the year in which he was ordained a priest and began to teach, he studied philosophy and theology at the University of Munich and at the higher school in Freising. In 1953 he obtained a doctorate in theology.

Four years later, he qualified as a university teacher, and taught dogma and fundamental theology at the higher school of philosophy and theology of Freising, then in Bonn from 1959 to 1969, Mčnster from 1963 to 1966, Tubinga from 1966 to 1969. From 1969, he was a professor of dogmatic theology and of the history of dogma, as well as vice presdient, at the University of Regensburg.

In 1962, at 35, he became a consultor at Vatican Council II, of the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joseph Frings. In March 1977, Paul VI elected him Archbishop of Munich and he became the first diocesan priest after 80 years to take over the pastoral ministry of the large Bavarian diocese.

He was proclaimed Cardinal by Paul VI in the consistory of 27 June 1977.

Further information regarding Pope Benedict XVI can be found on the Web at the following addresses:

  • Biography at Catholic-Hierarchy.org

  • Prefect Emeritus of Doctrine of the Faith

  • Roman Curia

  • Respond to this story

    Posting a comment requires free registration: