April 29, 2005


Welcome, Pope Benedict

Habemus papam! We have a pope! Welcome, Pope Benedict XVI !

The aphorism “He who goes into a conclave as pope comes out a cardinal” proved not to be true this time. Although at first there was no leading candidate among the cardinals, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became the frontrunner in the events leading up to the conclave.

As the dean of the College of Cardinals—and one of only three men that Pope John Paul II did not elevate to the college—Cardinal Ratzinger presided at John Paul’s funeral and gave a magnificent homily, chaired the meetings of the cardinals prior to the conclave, and gave another powerful homily at the Mass preceding the conclave. In all this, he appeared pontifical and obviously gained the confidence of his brother cardinals.

We said in our editorial “The next pope” in our April 15 issue, “The next pope almost certainly will not be a young man.” Pope Benedict became 78 just prior to the conclave. The secular media immediately called him a “transitional pope.” That’s the same thing they said about Pope John XXIII , elected at 77, who proved to be much more when he convened the Second Vatican Council. Although Pope Benedict himself said that his pontificate will be short, it could be longer than expected. After all, 102 years ago, Pope Leo XIII lived to be 93.

The election of Pope Benedict seems to indicate above all that the cardinals want this pope to continue the work and policies of Pope John Paul. If so, how could they have chosen anyone better than the man who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 24 years?

In our April 15 editorial, we opined that the most serious problem facing the Church is the secularization of Western Europe. In taking the name Benedict, after the founder of the Benedictine Order and co-patron saint of Europe, our new pope signaled that restoring the faith to Europe will be a priority.

He made that even more explicit in the homily he gave just before the start of the conclave. He spoke out against secularization and “the dictatorship of relativism” in the West. Relativism is the belief that there are no objective truths. His homily was as close to a campaign speech as custom allowed, and his brother cardinals obviously liked what they saw and heard.

Naturally, there are many so-called liberal Catholics who were disappointed by the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger. One of them, columnist E. J. Dionne, called Cardinal Ratzinger’s supporters “traditionalist cardinals.” He also said, “One can be absolutely certain that at the moment his name was announced, liberal Catholics around the world were filled with anxiety and foreboding.”

These Catholics obviously want changes in the Church, what the secular media refer to as “reforms.” What they mean is acceptance of secular society’s values. But can anyone really think that any other cardinal who might have been elected pope would reverse the Church’s opposition to abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, embryonic stem-cell research, divorce and remarriage, homosexual acts including gay marriages, or any other moral issues for which the Church is known? Would you want to belong to a Church that condoned those things?

The pope must fill many roles, but his primary responsibility is to preserve and proclaim the teachings of Jesus as handed down through the centuries from the time that Jesus appointed Peter and his successors to lead his Church. Pope Benedict XVI , as a brilliant theologian, is well equipped to do that.

In the first message he delivered after becoming pope, Benedict emphasized another priority we identified in our April 15 editorial—ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. He said that he would work toward Christian unification. We have every confidence that he will do that.

Those who know the new pope well speak of him as a holy, gentle, humble and compassionate man. Twice, he tried to retire and return to his beloved Bavaria, but Pope John Paul II refused to accept his resignation. He might not be as charismatic as his predecessor, but who could be?

We are confident that the cardinals, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, chose well. Ad multos annos. 

— John F. Fink

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