(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – “Habemus papam”, Latin for “We have a pope” were the words heard around the world last Tuesday when the election Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was announced.
The 78 year old Cardinal was elected by the College of Cardinals as the 265th leader of the Catholic Church, after only the second day of conclave at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. Despite his age, the German Cardinal Ratzinger was the clear favorite from the start. Ratzinger, known to some as Pope John Paul II’s “Rotweiller”, was among his closest allies while serving under him as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one of the Vatican’s most important posts.
Many progressive Catholics fear that his views are far too conservative, including his hard line against abortion, birth control, the ordination of women, and homosexuality. He has also taken a fair amount of criticism about his involvement (though mandatory) with the Hitler youth group, and his service in the German army during World War II. However, he abandoned the Nazi army in April of 1945, and his father was known for his anti-Nazi sentiment.
His homily, delivered the day after his election, aimed to dismantle some of these preconceived stereotypes, and reinforce his goals of openness and reconciliation within the Catholic community, as well as with other faiths.
“I will make every effort and dedicate myself to pursuing the promising dialogue that my predecessors began with various civilizations, because it is mutual understanding that gives rise to conditions for a better future for everyone,” Benedict said.
Student opinions in the Washington area range from skepticism to hope. A recent article by the Washington Post chronicled various student opinions from Catholic University on the election of the new pope;
“Cardinal Ratzinger seems a prudent choice to be the next pope; he advised Pope John Paul II frequently. However, his policies about integrating Christian beliefs are more close-minded than those of the previous pope. This won’t foster a sense of togetherness among members of our faith at a time when we need that togetherness the most,” said Catholic University student John Murphy.
“I am shocked that Joseph Ratzinger has been elected pope. First, because it happened so quickly, which makes me think the cardinals already had made their decision before they went into the conclave. Second, because he has such conservative beliefs, and the Catholic Church needs to take more radical action if it wants to retain believers. And third, because he was enrolled in the Nazi youth movement in 1941, although he says it was against his will,” said Catholic University student Meghan Nigborowicz.
“I am happy with the elevation of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,” said Catholic University student Leia DiCocco. “With his background of leadership and strong conservative ideas, I believe he will have a successful reign. Even though he can never replace Pope John Paul II, I am at ease knowing our faith is being led by a person who is healthy, educated, ambitious and, now, infallible.”
George Washington University senior Richard Pugh had a more moderate take on the recent papal election; “He’s a conservative who falls in line with that doctrine preached by John Paul II,” he said. “Catholics looking for conservative values will love him for maintaining the status quo, while those that are scared by his thinking should realize that Catholicism is more about personal morality, and are not attached to what the pope says.”