Cardinals Choose a Close Aide to John Paul II to Lead Church

IAN FISHER and LAURIE GOODSTEIN

New York Times

April 20, 2005

VATICAN CITY, April 19 - Roman Catholic cardinals on reached to the church's conservative wing today and chose as the 265th pope Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a seasoned and hard-line German theologian who served as John Paul II's defender of the faith.

At 5:50 p.m., wisps of white smoke puffed from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, where the cardinals were meeting, signaling that the new pope had been chosen only a day after the secret conclave began.

His name was not announced until nearly an hour later, after the great bell at St. Peter's tolled, with tension rising in the swelling crowd, until the scarlet curtain over the central balcony parted and a cardinal announced in Latin: "Habemus Papem!" or "We have a pope!"

"Dear brothers and sisters," he said in a clear voice, spreading his arms wide over the crowd, "after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in the Lord's vineyard."

He announced his name as Benedict XVI.

The new pope, who was born in Marktl am Inn, Germany, and turned 78 on Saturday, was one of the closest collaborators of John Paul II. As the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he has been the church's doctrinal watchdog since 1981.

Benedict XVI is the first German pope in centuries. Benedict XV was an Italian who presided from 1914 to 1922 during World War I. A diplomat, his efforts to end the war were ignored by both sides, and the papacy was not invited to the peace conference.

The unusually brief conclave seemed to suggest that Cardinal Ratzinger was a popular choice inside the college of 115 cardinals who elected him, a man who shared - if at times went beyond - John Paul's conservative theology and seemed ready to take over the job after serving beside him for more than two decades.

It was not clear, however, how popular a choice he was on St. Peter's Square: The applause for the new pope, while genuine and sustained among many, tapered off decisively in large pockets, reflecting reservations about his doctrinal rigidity and about whether an already polarized church will now find less to bind it together.

His well-known stands include the assertion that Catholicism is the "truth" and other religions are "deficient"; the spiritual weakness of the modern, secular world; a sense that Catholicism is in competition with Islam; and opposition to homosexuality, women as priests and stem cell research.

"I kind of do think he will try to unite Catholics," said Linda Nguyen, 20, an American student studying in Rome who had wrapped her hand in six rosaries. "But he might scare people away."

Vincenzo Jammace, a teacher from Rome, stood below the balcony and said: "This is the gravest error."

But the cardinal's many supporters said they believed that the rule of Benedict XVI would be clear and uncompromising about what it means to be a Roman Catholic.

"It's not enough to believe in Jesus Christ - we need someone to follow," Rocco Buttiglione, an Italian academic and politician who was friends with John Paul and Cardinal Ratzinger, said in the huge crowd. "He has experienced modernity and he is convinced that modernity is a problem and Jesus Christ is the answer. It's not that Christianity has a problem and modernity is the answer."

In making their choice, cardinals from 52 countries definitively answered several questions about the direction of the Roman Catholic church at the start of its third millennium.

They did not reach outside of Europe, perhaps to Latin America, to reflect the growth of the church there and in Asia and Africa. They did not return the job to an Italian; an Italian had held the papacy for 455 years before Karol Wojtyla was elected John Paul II in 1978.

John Paul was virtually unknown when he was selected, but the new pope's record is long and articulate in a prolific academic career before he became John Paul II's doctrinal watchdog in 1981.

In many ways, the cardinals picked John Paul's theological twin but his opposite in presence and personality. Where John Paul II was charismatic and tended to soften his rigid stands with warmth, the new Pope Benedict XVI is a less dynamic man - humble in private, his friends say - who pulls few punches in public about his strong beliefs.

In private, he is also known as a thoughtful thinker and shy, if not aloof. He is also an accomplished pianist, favoring Beethoven.

Whatever the future holds, the white smoke and the deeply resonating bell this evening were the signals thousands of people in St. Peter's Square had been waiting for.

Long streams of Romans hurried to the square and horns blared as people rushed to learn who had been selected. People cheered and clapped at seeing the white smoke and hearing the bell, signs that the Vatican had said would indicate that the new pope had been chosen.

There was a lag of several minutes between the appearance of a first wisp of smoke curling up from the chimney and the ringing of the bell, adding to the uncertainty that many people waiting in the square had endured this morning, and also after the cardinals had started their conclave Monday afternoon, when there had been questions about the smoke's color. Black smoke indicates that no one has been selected.

But several minutes after the first wisps appeared this afternoon, the bells started to toll.

Of eight conclaves since 1903, only two previous ones had ended after two days, the last in 1978 when Cardinal Albino Luciani, patriarch of Venice, was chosen. He took the name John Paul I.

Cardinal Ratzinger had emerged as a front-runner in recent days, despite the misgivings of some about whether his orthodox approaches might further splinter church membership in western nations.

As an ultraconservative, he had shut the door on any discussion on several issues, including the ordination of women, celibacy of priests and homosexuality, defending his positions by invoking theological truth. In the name of orthodoxy, he is in favor of a smaller church, but one that is more ideologically pure.

On Monday, at a Mass before the conclave convened, he delivered an uncompromising warning against any deviation from traditional Catholic teaching.

Reaction to Cardinal Ratzinger's election as pope today ranged from hometown pride to reflections on where he will lead the church and its 1.1 billion members.

Almost immediately after the news was announced, crowds started gathering in Marktl am Inn, in Bavaria. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called it "a huge honor for Germany," and President Horst Koehler said "a compatriate pope filled us with a special kind of joy and a little bit of pride in Germany."

In the United States, a State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, said America "welcomes the announcement."

"We look forward to working with His Holiness and the Holy See to build upon our already bilateral relationship and to promote human dignity across the world," Mr. Ereli said.

In New York City, 77-year-old Gloria Cummings said she was disappointed with the choice.

"I'm not happy because he's too conservative and old and I would like to see a younger and more liberal pope in there," Ms. Cummings told The Associated Press. "I fear the church won't progress and will just become staid. We need a change."

Mercedes Minota, a Spanish teacher, originally from Colombia, said she was not disappointed by the choice, but would have preferred a Spanish speaker like herself.

"We have so many wonderful Latin American cardinals," Ms. Minota said. "I was expecting a new Spanish pope."

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, applauded the selection.

"The new pope, like his predecessor, understands the grave danger that awaits a society wherein each individual makes up his own morality," he said in New York, The A.P. reported. "It may not sell in the U.S., but it is nonetheless true that a society that refuses to acknowledge that morality is a social attribute, not an individual one, is bound to culturally implode."

Bishop Kevin Dowling, a liberal Catholic who is vice chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, said that Catholics who favor orthodoxy will be pleased with the elevation of the new pope, though those who favor change may not be.

"For people who were looking for a church that would be open to debating and discussing and reflecting on some of the crucial issues of modern times in relation to the globalized world - poverty, injustice, homosexuality, the massive AIDS pandemic and the issue of protection of lives . . . these people may have concerns," Bishop Dowling said.

Some reform-minded American Catholic groups expressed cautious optimism about the choice.

"We recognize that Ratzinger is someone who is considered theologically and doctrinally conservative. But history has shown that the office transforms the individual," said Suzanne Morse, communications director for Voice of the Faithful, a 30,000 member group formed in the wake of the church's pedophilia scandals and which advocates a greater role for the laity in church governance. "You don't necessarily know what a pope is going to do based on their experiences as a cardinal,"

Ms. Morse noted that when the first allegations were made against priests, Mr. Ratzinger "seemed to think the problem was a media creation," she said. "But since then, we have seen small but significant signs that he has some sense of the scope of the clergy sexual abuse crisis."

Among other things, she said, the cardinal had been instrumental in reopening a church investigation against Father Marciel Maciel Degollado, a politically influential Mexican priest who was founder of the orthodox order Legionaries of Christ and has been accused of sexually abusing some former seminarians.

A. James McAdams, professor of international affairs at the University of Notre Dame, said American political categories like "liberal" and "conservative" did not necessarily apply to the cleavages within Catholic thought and practice.

"I think it is silly to portray Ratzinger as Darth Vader," he said. "This is the attempt simply to find categories."

At St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown Manhattan, Robin Ward, a 55-year-old accountant said the election of a new pope with traditional values "sends a message."

"Continuity. Continuity is what they want," said Mr. Ward.

Alan Feuer, Christine Hauser, Timothy Williams and Nicholas Confessore contributed reporting for this article from New York and Michael Wines from Johannesburg. Judy Dempsey of The International Herald Tribune contributed reporting from Berlin.