Why Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is the new pope
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo
Inq7.net 2005-04-25
POPE John Paul the Great left behind more than just a legacy that is hard to follow – his 26-year leadership has also formed the mold and substance of the set of criteria by which his successor would be selected. The election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) in one of the Vatican’s briefest conclaves conveys the clarity of intent and expectations of the Cardinal-Electors in choosing the next pope.
A pope who is elected by the second day and after only four balloting (the fastest election since the 20th century) must have had overwhelming support from the very beginning. That this happened despite the fact that he is 78 years old underscores his suitability to follow John Paul the Great as the 265th pontiff. It would appear that assurance of continuity and communications skills may have become the deciding factor.


Aside from being one of the closest to Pope John Paul the Great, Cardinal Ratzinger also served as what is referred to in politics as the main ideological adviser. National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and CNN’s John Allen, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing the same panel of speakers during the NetOne International Media Congress in Castelgandolfo last November, referred to our new pope as the “Vatican Enforcer” in his April 16 NCR profile of Cardinal Ratzinger. Among the “enforcements” John listed were the disciplining of deviant clergy who misrepresented doctrine and the blocking of movements like the Marxist version of Liberation Theology.

Pope John Paul the Great brought the Catholic Church to unprecedented heights. His successor must therefore possess the right qualities that would ensure the continuity of the task he had begun. The Church needed to send the signal that nothing has changed much from the era of the late pope who was widely admired and greatly loved.

Like his predecessor, our new pope is a staunch Marian devotee and strongly advocates ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue which were two of the great hallmarks of John Paul the Great’s reign. Like his predecessor, our new pope also believes in the important role that the new movements like the Focolare and Opus Dei are accomplishing for the Catholic Church.

The Focolare was especially close to the late pontiff’s heart because of its Marian orientation (Focolare is also known as The Work of Mary) and the movement’s achievements in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue that are consistent with the Focolare mission of promoting universal brotherhood. So appreciative of the Focolare Movement was John Paul the Great that in 1981 he gave them the exclusive use of an entire hall of his summer residence in Castelgandolfo where important international congresses and meetings are held 51 weeks of the year.

The vibrant presence of the Focolare in over 120 countries including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Turkey, and Algeria is a testament to its successful promotion of unity. The Focolare and other movements which have made inroads where traditional procedures would have taken the Church much time and debate to accomplish are considered the “light cavalry” of the Catholic Church.

The international gains of the Catholic Church under John Paul the Great (who broke the 455-year Italian succession in the Vatican) must have influenced the election of Cardinal Ratzinger – who is German. There were at least five Italian Cardinals who were considered papabili. But the conclave apparently saw it fit to keep the papacy outside the Italian tradition.

Communications skills

The Vatican needed a pope who can approximate, if not match, the communications skills of John Paul the Great who successfully utilized the media to project a Church that was long perceived as out of step with the times and beginning to be irrelevant. People did not always agree with the late pope but they appreciated what he stood for and where he was coming from. That was because he managed to clearly state his position on many issues. The same issues that hounded the late pope will also confront the current one and he will need all the media savvy that his predecessor exhibited.

I saw EWTN replay an interview with Cardinal Ratzinger and I was impressed with his communications skills. He exhibited excellent television form, was clear with his answers and conversed in good English – the lingua franca of our age. He was relaxed, exuded confidence and was unequivocal in his answers. Other than being recognized as one of the most intelligent among the Cardinals, he is known to speak 10 languages and if all these are spoken in the same English I heard him speak, then he may even end up doing better than Pope John Paul the Great whose best skills lay in projecting a powerful presence. Most of the time, the late pope read from a written speech. Our new pope can speak without a hard copy back up.

Pope Benedict XVI’s personal demeanor easily debunks the myth that he is a hardliner. In time, all the unsubstantiated and idle talk will have to give way to fact as people see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears what this new pope is really like. US President Teddy Roosevelt lived by the norm that one should “speak softly but carry a big stick”. The humility and genial temperament shining through his papal authority may well describe how Pope Benedict XVI will wear the shoes of the fisherman.

Predictable flak

Facing increasing pressure, especially from its own ranks, the Church will have to face up to ever increasing challenges mostly arising from the effect of globalization and technology. Issues such as women priests, gay marriages, contraception, abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, celibacy and many emerging modern day issues will not go away. Instead they will continue to escalate and challenge the papacy and everything it stands for.

A pope who upholds time-honored moral values and refuses to submit to the newly created demons of the modern age will be branded as a hardliner.

This is why we need a strong pope who can endure the assault and who can articulate the Church position across different races and cultures.

I can understand the attacks coming from non-Catholic quarters. But Catholics who do so are deluding themselves into thinking that there are such popes as “liberals” and “conservatives” on such issues as abortion, euthanasia, and so forth where the Catholic doctrine – consistent with the absolute truths that do not change with the times – will never be abandoned by any pope who is true to his mission. “Thou shalt not kill” will always be “Thou shalt not kill” whether a pope is what is perceived as liberal or conservative. Whoever else was pope in 2003 would not have endorsed The Iraq War.

Catholics who aspire to stretch the limits of Church doctrine are no different from England’s King Henry VIII who wanted the pope to allow him to divorce his queen in order to “legally” fornicate with Anne Boleyn. The Tudor monarch ended up founding the breakaway Church of England – with the king as head of the church – and had a total of six wives. Perhaps it was God’s design that a male heir he so greatly desired to succeed him never came to be. Edward, Henry VIII’s only son by Jane Seymour, died at a very young age.

All these, of course, are assessments that are mostly based on historical trends. We must not altogether forget that there is the Almighty who guides the process of selecting the Vicar of Christ on earth. We saw the presence of the Almighty all through the reign of John Paul the Great. We cannot presume to fathom what He may want for us or is planning to steer us to. We can only trust on His love and providence.

You may email William M. Esposo at: w_esposo@yahoo.com

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