Pope Assumes Role as Bishop of Rome

Making the final step in his installation, Benedict stresses church policies and urges renewal of Catholicism 'generation after generation.'

By Tracy Wilkinson

Los Angeles Times

May 8, 2005

ROME — Pope Benedict XVI completed the formal takeover of papal power Saturday by assuming his important role as bishop of Rome, ascending to the marble throne of one of Christianity's oldest churches.

With crowds of pilgrims and tourists cheering him on, Benedict rode from the walled-in confines of the Vatican to the basilica of St. John Lateran in southeast Rome. He stood in the back of a black, open-topped Mercedes, waving and nearly falling when the car revved up the front steps of the ancient church, which is considered the Cathedral of Rome.

Inside, he followed a procession of cardinals and priests to take his seat as the bishop of Rome.

"As Catholics, we are all also Romans," he said.

The church where the ceremony took place was the first Christian basilica built in Rome. It was constructed by Constantine in the 4th century and served as the official papal residence until 1309. The Vatican calls it the "mother and head of all churches."

Any pope is first and foremost the bishop of Rome, and from that derives many of his functions and the formalities of the Roman Catholic Church. For example, all cardinals must be assigned a church here because they technically assist the pope in his Roman diocese. It symbolizes his leadership of churches the world over.

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was installed as pope last month, used his sermon Saturday to reiterate conservative church policies on various social issues, and urged renewal of Catholicism "generation after generation." Obedience to the word of God, he said, must predominate over free and potentially erroneous thinking.

Even the pope, he said, "must not declare his own ideas but should stick himself and the church to obedience to the word of God," especially when confronted with "attempts to adapt and water down" fundamental teachings.

As an example, Benedict cited his predecessor, John Paul II, and his "unequivocal" defense of life from conception to death, which for the Catholic Church generally means banning euthanasia and abortion.

"The freedom to kill is not a true freedom but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery," Benedict said.

His remarks did not stake out new positions but were true to the pope's heart, an unambiguous and morally linear position with little room for questioning.

Top Italian officials were present, including Mayor Walter Veltroni of Rome, who earlier met with the pope.

Since he was elevated to the papacy April 24, Benedict has little by little settled down to the business of being pope.

He has met with world leaders — the presidents of Italy and South Africa, so far — and resumed the ad limina visits in which bishops come to the Vatican to report on the issues of their dioceses.

Benedict and Vatican officials have taken pains to portray the new pope in a softer light than his reputation as hard-line doctrinal watchdog for his predecessor might suggest. For more than two decades, he enforced church teachings and silenced dissidents.

In the weeks since his election, however, Benedict has been described as a shy, gentle man willing to listen to all points of view who will be more broad-minded as pope.

He even loves cats, the public was told.

Yet last week, the highly regarded editor of the Jesuit magazine America, Father Thomas Reese, was forced to resign after steady criticism from Benedict's former office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.