[Updated] According to several sources, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has won election as the new pope of the Roman Catholic church, taking the name, Benedict XVI. “[D]espite a widespread assumption he was too old and divisive to win election,” Ratzinger won on the fourth ballot. According to the Reuters story, “Billed as the front-runner going into the conclave, Ratzinger, 78, was widely seen as a standard-bearer who would fall short of the required two-thirds majority and have to cede to a more conciliatory compromise figure.”
John Paul II appointed Ratzinger to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an organization within the church, originally established in 1542 as the Inquisition, or more formally as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. Ratzinger is known for hardline positions on birth control and for having been less than diplomatic about other churches. As John Nichols, writing for The Nation put it, “Cardinal Ratzinger, who will now be identified as Pope Benedict XVI, has for a quarter century been the church’s heavy.”
As The National Catholic Reporter reported several years ago, many serious observers of contemporary Catholicism believe that, “Ratzinger will be remembered as the architect of John Paul’s internal Kulturkampf, intimidating and punishing thinkers in order to restore a model of church — clerical, dogmatic and rule-bound — many hoped had been swept away by the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 assembly of bishops that sought to renew Catholicism and open it to the world. Ratzinger’s campaign bears comparison to the anti-modernist drive in the early part of the century or Pius XII’s crackdown in the 1950s, critics say, but is even more disheartening because it followed a moment of such optimism and new life.”
The New Zealand Herald reports that many liberal Germans are reacting with dismay to their countryman’s selection.
Admired by conservative German Catholics, he is feared by many of their more liberal counterparts who have dubbed him “The enforcer” and “The panzer cardinal” because of his unflinching commitment to conservative doctrine. “Certainly no other German churchman divides opinion more than Ratzinger,” remarked Cologne’s Rundschau newspaper shortly after the Vatican announced his election. “Most of his critics are to be found in Germany and they are his fiercest,” the paper added. “For many in Germany the man with the ice grey hair is simply a symbol of religious dogma and conservatism.” An opinion poll conducted in Germany last week showed that 36 per cent of Germans opposed his becoming Pope whereas only 29 per cent supported his candidacy.
John Paul II had appointed “all but 13 of the 183 living cardinals,” and “114 of the 117 electors,” essentially ensuring that his successor would be conservative, and therefore not at all satisfactory to those hoping for progress on issues of women or sexuality. Even if the new pope dies soon, the electoral math is unlikely to change rapidly.