Pope Benedict Sets Out Papal Goals in First Public Mass


New York Times

April 20, 2005

VATICAN CITY, April 20 - Pope Benedict XVI today used his first papal Mass to send a message of openness and reconciliation to his Roman Catholic followers, to other Christian churches and to "everybody, even those who follow other religions or who simply look for an answer to life's fundamental questions and still haven't found it."

He said that like his predecessor John Paul II, his "primary task" would be to work toward "the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers," and added: "Theological dialogue is necessary."

It was a striking shift in tone from a mere two days ago, when he entered the conclave in the Sistine Chapel as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a theologian who had served for the last 24 years as the often-feared chief interpreter - and enforcer - of Roman Catholic doctrine. In a homily just before the conclave began on Monday, Cardinal Ratzinger had denounced what he called a "dictatorship of relativism" and "new sects" that indoctrinate believers through "human trickery."

However, today, on the first full day of the new papacy, many of the cardinals who elected Benedict appeared to be engaged in an effort to both explain their decision and to transform his image from authoritarian doctrinal watchdog to humble servant and pastor.

Several cardinals gave news conferences and many agreed to interviews, describing the new pope as "compassionate," "collegial" and "shy." All seven American cardinal-archbishops appeared at an unusual news conference in Rome this morning and in similar language tried to introduce the world to a different side of the new pope.

"We just have to be very careful about caricaturizing the Holy Father and very simply putting labels upon this man of the church," said Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles. "I've already seen some headlines in our country doing that. And I think that's a mistake."

They explained that Benedict had been chosen in a relatively speedy four rounds of balloting because of his brilliance as a theologian, his deep spirituality and his ability to communicate the faith with clarity.

"The vision that some have of the Holy Father is someone who is not interested in dialogue. That's a skewed vision," said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, D.C. "I believe you will find in the papacy of Benedict XVI a good deal of consultation, a good deal of collegiality."

He added that Pope Benedict was "someone who has been one of the great exponents" of the Second Vatican Council.

"When he was head of the Doctrine of the Faith, he had a particular task to do, which was to uphold and make sure the traditions of the church, doctrinally, morally, were upheld," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, archbishop of Westminster, England, in a separate news conference. "Now that he is pope it is an entirely different concept altogether. Now he is Peter for the whole church."

The problem of Benedict's public image and the contrast with his warmer predecessor was summed up in a front-page cartoon in Corriere della Serra, Italy's most respected newspaper. It assumed that readers remembered John Paul II's now-famous introduction as pope from the basilica balcony in August 1978.

"I do not know whether I can express myself in your - in our - Italian language. If I make mistakes," he added, beaming and endearing himself to Italians, "you will correct me."

The cartoon showed Benedict at the same balcony looking out at the crowds. "And If I make a mistake, woe to you if you correct me!"

Meantime, the Vatican began introducing Benedict XVI to the world through television: It released video of the new pope, dressed in a white cassock and skullcap, as he walked into the papal apartments. He sat down at his new desk, and with a black marker, signed his new name to a sheet of paper. The video also showed him greeting cheering Vatican officials, and getting out of a grey papal car.

The Vatican also gave a brief description of his first full day as pope: In the morning he visited his former staff at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he headed until the death of John Paul. He ate lunch with members of the curia, the Vatican bureaucracy. He also visited the apartment where he lived until now, on Piazza della Citta Leonina, a few blocks from the Vatican.

On Friday he will visit again with all the cardinals in Rome. Then on Saturday, he is expected to meet with journalists. A Vatican official said it had not been decided whether he will answer questions, though both John Paul I and John Paul II did respond to some questions during similar meetings with journalists soon after their elections.

On St. Peter's Square, with no more smoke to watch for, the bustle of the two days of the conclave had settled down to normal. Souvenir shops had not yet stocked the usual run of papal souvenirs the prayer cards, rosaries, statuettes, postcards with the image of Benedict, though owners assured the few customers who asked that it would only be a few days.

One shop facing St. Peter's Square did have copies of his photograph, large and small, and Jim Roccio, 66, from Johnstown, Pa., managed to buy the last one before they sold out this afternoon. Mr. Roccio, a travel agent who calls himself a moderate Catholic, said he was happy to hear that Benedict was working to soften his image.

"From things I read about him, I had my doubts," said Mr. Roccio, who was in St. Peter's Square when the election was announced. "But watching him on the balcony, his first words that he wanted to be humble I thought he was reaching out saying that 'I might have had some different opinions, but know I know I am not just a cardinal.'

"To me, that's what appeals to me right now," he said. "He's not saying: 'Here I am, you have to take me as I am.'"

On the square, two young German Catholics writing postcards in front of the basilica said they were thrilled at a new German pope, especially one, like them, from Bavaria. But they too said they hoped that Benedict's efforts to reach out were sincere.

"In the past he was a conservative," said Hans Reichhart, 22, who grew up about 40 miles from the town where Benedict did. "But I hope that he changes his mind to the time before he came to Rome, because he was a progressive. I hope that he will bring new life to the church."