Cardinals Pick Joseph Ratzinger for Pope

By Tracy Wilkinson

Los Angeles Times

April 19, 2005

VATICAN CITY — Joseph Ratzinger, a renowned theologian and provocative hard-line enforcer of Catholic Church doctrine for the past two decades, was chosen Tuesday to succeed his friend and close ally Pope John Paul II. Ratzinger, 78, became Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th leader of the world's largest and most powerful Christian institution.

The swift election of the German-born Ratzinger was a vote for continuity of John Paul's policies, signaling an endorsement of the church's most conservative teachings.

The new pope will lead a church in crisis, strongly divided after John Paul's 26-year reign and in sore need of healing. Despite John Paul's personal magnetism, many of the church's 1 billion members are seriously disaffected. The faith is losing ground in many parts of the world to other religions and is under threat from radical Islam and secularism.

Minutes after his name was read out to crowds in St. Peter's Square, Ratzinger stepped onto a balcony overlooking the multitude and described himself as "a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."

"The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me," said the new pope, dressed in flowing white robes and the scarlet papal cape and golden stole, "and above all I entrust myself to your prayers."

Meeting secretly for less than 24 hours, Roman Catholic cardinals locked inside the Sistine Chapel elected Ratzinger on the fourth ballot, then burned the papers on which each had disguised his handwriting and penned a name.

White smoke puffed from a chimney on top of the chapel, signaling to the world that one man had received at least 77 votes, the required two-thirds majority for victory.

Initial details were emerging on how the cardinals made their decision. While many observers had suggested Ratzinger was too polarizing a figure at this critical juncture in church history, several cardinals appeared to have fallen into line behind the image of a strong leader who represented unambiguous moral authority.

On the morning of his election, Ratzinger had breakfast with four cardinals from Asia and Africa. He knew them all by name and spoke to them in shared languages, according to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, who was present.

Ratzinger's tough-minded advocacy of Christian identity and the primacy of Catholicism may have appealed to cardinals in those parts of the developing world where holders of the faith are under attack and at war with militant Islam or totalitarian regimes.

Over the years, Ratzinger has silenced dissent within the church and labeled other faiths "deficient." At the same time, Ratzinger, who grew up in Hitler's Germany, is often described by admirers as humble and kind. Everyone agrees on his acute intellectual prowess.

George Weigel, one of John Paul's biographers, praised the decision.

"The cardinals chose the best known and most respected of their number, a man they each know as a great listener and a sympathetic listener," Weigel said. "This was not only a tremendous affirmation of the past 26.5 years; it was a vote of confidence in Joseph Ratzinger as the man best fitted to give an evangelical thrust to this papacy, a new dynamism in the first decade of the 21st century."

A subdued Belgian Cardinal Gottfried Danneels, possibly the most progressive member of the college, said he hoped Ratzinger's taking of the name Benedict signaled a shift in the German prelate's focus.

"Cardinal Ratzinger remains and will continue to remain the same person," he told a group of reporters Tuesday night. "But for the moment he is universal pastor of the church. He is not anymore the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.... When you are a pope, you have to be the pastor of everyone and everything which happens in the church."

Reaction to the election of the oldest pope in two centuries was mixed, both in a St. Peter's Square packed with people eager to hear the news and around the world.

"It is obvious that in today's world with its multitude of opinions, not everyone, even in our own church, could and wanted to follow him," acknowledged Cardinal Karl Lehmann, also of Germany. "But his theological work was always respected, even by people with differing opinions."

Since John Paul died April 2 at age 84, Catholics everywhere had waited expectantly to learn who would assume the throne of St. Peter.

The announcement of the new pope was a dramatic roller coaster. White smoke, indicating a successful election, puffed from a skinny chimney atop the Sistine Chapel at 5:50 p.m., and many onlookers started to cheer. But the great bell of St. Peter's, which the Vatican had said would ring to coincide with the white smoke, remained still.

Finally, after about five minutes of suspense, the bell began to toll. Applause and chants of "Viva il Papa" rang out. People from across Rome converged on St. Peter's Square, running through streets and bridges over the Tiber River to join the swelling crowd.

After about half an hour, Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, the senior deacon, emerged from behind crimson velvet draperies onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square.

In five languages, he greeted "brothers and sisters" and then announced in Latin: "Habemus papum." "We have a pope."

With a flourish he announced the first name, in Latin, Josephum, followed by a pause for dramatic effect. And then: Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger.

The new pope appeared on the balcony, dressed in the papal vestments.