Pope Benedict XVI Puts Emphasis on Unity

By Tracy Wilkinson

Los Angeles Times

April 20, 2005

VATICAN CITY — In his first extensive remarks as pope, Benedict XVI sought to calm fears today that his papacy would further divide the Roman Catholic Church and pledged to reach out to other faiths.

Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger asserted the primacy of Catholicism and branded as "deficient" other religions, including Protestant denominations, said he hoped to unify Christians and further the cause of ecumenism.

The speech in Latin concluded a morning Mass in the Sistine Chapel, and was intended to cast Benedict as a pope who would follow in the same path as his predecessor, the late John Paul II. It was also aimed at quieting widespread uneasiness over ultraconservative Ratzinger's election.

Cardinals on Tuesday chose — in near-record time — the German-born prelate, who is 78, to become history's 265th pope. He had served as the Vatican's chief doctrinal watchdog for nearly two decades and was a close ally of John Paul.

"Confounding all my expectations, divine providence through the votes of the venerable father cardinals has called me to succeed this great pope," Ratzinger said, ignoring for the moment that he had been considered the far-and-ahead front-runner within days of John Paul's death.

"I have a sense of inadequacy and human turmoil at the responsibility entrusted to me yesterday," he said.

White-haired and slightly hunched, Pope Benedict XVI will lead a church in crisis, sharply divided after John Paul's 26-year reign. 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.

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.

Liberal Roman Catholics who had hoped for change and more openness toward the role of women in the church, birth control and homosexuality were disappointed, and predicted a status quo — or worse, a leap backward — that would drive more people from the church.

"This is a disaster," said Rea Howarth, co-director of the Quixote Center, a Catholic lay organization based in Brentwood, Md., that is involved in human rights work in Latin America. "The church has lost so much credibility. Now I'm afraid that more Catholics will just turn their backs and walk away."

Others said Ratzinger was the logical choice to succeed John Paul given his closeness to the late pontiff, his similar views on key issues affecting the church, and the increasingly prominent role he played in church affairs as John Paul's health deteriorated.

"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," said George Wiegel, one of John Paul's biographers. "This was not only a tremendous affirmation of the past 26 1/2 years, it was a vote of confidence in Joseph Ratzinger as the man best fitted to give an evangelical thrust to this papacy."

Meeting secretly for less than 24 hours, the 115 cardinals locked inside the Sistine Chapel elected Ratzinger on the fourth ballot, then burned the papers on which each had penned a name in disguised handwriting.

Initial details quickly emerged on how the cardinals reached the two-thirds majority needed for victory. While many observers had thought Ratzinger would be too polarizing a figure at this crucial 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 and also Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles. At breakfast, and throughout all the meetings leading to the conclave, Ratzinger was able to address each cardinal by name and spoke to them in shared languages, Mahony said.

Ratzinger's tough-minded advocacy of the primacy of Catholicism evidently appealed to cardinals in those parts of the developing world where holders of the faith are under attack by militant Islam or repressive regimes.

Ratzinger reportedly went into the conclave with about 50 of the needed 77 votes in the bank. The more reform-minded wing of the college was not able to agree on a single candidate. Although cardinals entering the conclave had spoken of widely divergent agendas, from democratizing the church, expanding dialogue with Islam and perhaps turning to dynamic Latin America for leadership, the opposition quickly melted away.

Mahony, without describing the breakdown of the vote, said there was a "sense of fraternity and a sense of consensus among men just really a good, friendly group."

Italian Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of Florence said, "There was a climate of great celebration, unity and communion.

"It was a fast election," he told a regional television station, "and that speaks for itself."

After the winning vote, Ratzinger was asked by another senior cardinal whether he accepted the position. He responded in the affirmative, and then left for a side room, often called the Room of Tears because of the emotion of the moment, to change into papal vestments that had been prepared in three sizes.

Rigali, the cardinal from Philadelphia, said Ratzinger explained his choice of the name Benedict, after two earlier Benedicts: the World War I-era pontiff who attempted unsuccessfully to make peace, and St. Benedict, the monk and patron saint of Europe.

"So, obviously, the pope has launched the idea that coming as he does from Western Europe, that he wants to do what he can to promote the well-being of Europe," Rigali said. "And the cardinal made specific mention of this, that St. Benedict instructs people to prefer nothing [more] than the love of Christ."

Ratzinger grew up in Hitler's Germany and joined the Hitler Youth movement when membership was obligatory. But he was never a Nazi and his family opposed the Nazis, according to his autobiography.

For the last 24 years, Ratzinger has headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the successor to the Grand Inquisition of the Middle Ages. He was the man who had John Paul's ear for all matters of orthodoxy and doctrine, and in the late pontiff's declining years, he gained more power within the Curia, or Vatican bureaucracy.

As theological watchdog, Ratzinger has silenced dissent within the church.

At the same time, he is often described by admirers as personally unassuming and gracious. He is also widely regarded for his acute intellectual prowess and piety. His election was one of the swiftest in the last century.

Despite his hard-nosed reputation, several cardinals and other Catholics said Ratzinger would now have to make the transition to universal pastor.

Sister Mary Sujita Kallupurakkathu, superior general of the Sisters of Notre Dame, said she hoped Ratzinger-the-pope would listen to the world's needs "with a different heart."

"I want to believe in my heart that yesterday what he said was a 'cardinal,' but today he stands and speaks to us for change as 'pope,' " she said. "The past experience is a little scary, I have to admit."

Times staff writers Richard Boudreaux and Larry B. Stammer contributed to this report.