Signs of the Times

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger Elected Pope Benedict XVI

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, 78, who has been prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the last 24 years, was elected the 265th pope and took the name Benedict XVI. Appearing at the central window of St. Peter’s Basilica on April 19, the newly elected pope smiled as he was greeted by a cheering, flag-waving crowd of nearly 100,000 people. After the great John Paul II, the cardinals elected me, a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord, Pope Benedict said in a brief talk broadcast around the world.

I am consoled by the fact that the Lord can work and act even through insufficient instruments, and I especially entrust myself to your prayers, he said. In the joy of the risen Lord, and trusting in his permanent help, we go forward. The Lord will help us, and Mary his most holy mother is on our side. Thank you, he said.


Then Pope Benedict gave his blessing to the city of Rome and to the world. He stood and listened to the protracted applause that followed, smiling and raising his hands above his head. Among the few cardinals who joined him on the central balcony was U.S. Cardinal William W. Baum, the only voting cardinal besides the new pope to have participated in a previous conclave. From the side balconies of the basilica facade, other cardinals appeared, smiling and waving to the crowd.

Pope Benedict dined with the cardinals at their residence on the evening of his election, remained there overnight and celebrated Mass with them the next morning in the Sistine Chapel.

Pope Benedict is the first German pope since Pope Victor II, who reigned from 1055 to 1057. It was the second conclave in a row to elect a non-Italian pope, after Italians had held the papacy for more than 450 years.

The new pope was chosen by at least a two-thirds majority of 115 cardinals from 52 countries, who cast their ballots in secret in the Sistine Chapel. The election came on the second day of the voting, on the fourth ballot. It was a quick conclusion to a conclave that began with many potential candidates and no clear favorite.

The day before, Cardinal Ratzinger had opened the conclave with a stern warning about moral relativism and ideological currents that had buffeted the church in recent decades. The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these wavesthrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, he said.

Every day new sects are created and what St. Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw people into error, he said. Having a clear faith today is often labeled fundamentalism.

As the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981, Pope Benedict was on the front lines of numerous theological and pastoral controversies. He was described by Vatican officials who worked with him as a kind and prayerful theologian and a gentler man than the person often portrayed in the media as an inquisitor.

He made the biggest headlines when his congregation silenced or excommunicated theologians, withdrew church approval of certain books, helped rewrite liturgical translations, set boundaries on ecumenical dialogues, took over the handling of cases of clergy sex abuse against minors, curbed the role of bishops’ conferences and pressured religious orders to suspend wayward members.

Pope Benedict’s election was announced in Latin to a waiting world from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. A massive crowd of young and old filled St. Peter’s Square and welcomed the news with cheers and waves of applause.

White smoke poured from the Sistine Chapel chimney at 5:49 p.m., Rome time, signaling that the cardinals had chosen a successor to Pope John Paul II. At 6:04 p.m. the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica began pealing continuously to confirm the election.

At 6:40 p.m., Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez of Chile, the senior cardinal in the order of deacons, appeared at the basilica balcony and intoned to the crowd in Latin: Dear brothers and sisters, I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope. He continued: The most eminent and reverend lordship, Lord Joseph Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church Ratzinger.

The crowd in the square burst into applause. Some jumped for joy, some knelt to pray, and some simply stood and watched.

During their preconclave meetings, journalists tracked Cardinal Ratzinger’s rising status among cardinal-electors, but most sources doubted he would obtain the 77 votes needed to win. He was seen as divisive by some in the church, and many thought the cardinals would choose someone with more pastoral experience. In the end, the cardinals turned to a man who offered doctrinal firmness, a sharp intellect and a clear vision of the threats facing the church and the faith.

In the days before and after the pope’s death, the cardinal emphasized his concerns about the urgent challenges facing the church. In meditations written for the Way of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday, March 25, he said too many Catholics continue to scorn and scourge Jesus in his church. Christ suffers in his own church, he said. He described the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism, but also the fall of those Catholics who abuse the sacraments or their positions in the church.

How much filth there is in the church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him, he wrote. He said the church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side.

The soiled garments and face of your church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, he wrote. Have mercy on your church, he prayed. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered.

Born in Marktl am Inn in Bavaria on April 16, 1927, he began priestly studies early, but these were interrupted by World War II. While he was a seminarian, school officials enrolled him in the Hitler Youth program, but he soon stopped going to meetings. After being drafted in 1943, he served for a year on an anti-aircraft unit that tracked Allied bombardments. At the end of the war he spent time in a U.S. prisoner-of-war camp before being released.

Ordained in 1951, he received a doctorate and a licentiate in theology from the University of Munich, where he studied until 1957. He taught dogma and fundamental theology at the University of Freising in 1958-59, then lectured at the University of Bonn, 1959-69, at Münster, 1963-66, and at Tübingen from 1966 to 1969. In 1969 he was appointed professor of dogma and of the history of dogma at the University of Regensburg, where he also served as vice president until 1977.

A theological consultant to Cardinal Joseph Frings, of Cologne, Germany, he attended the Second Vatican Council as an expert, or peritus. He was said to have played an influential role at the council in discussions among the German-speaking participants, and he gained a reputation as a progressive theologian.

He was named a member of the International Theological Commission in 1969. Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977 and named him a cardinal later that year.

Pope Celebrates Mass, Pledges to Lead Church Toward Unity, Dialogue

After celebrating Mass with the cardinals who elected him, Pope Benedict XVI pledged that he would lead the church on the path of unity, dialogue and evangelization.

"I turn to everyone with simplicity and affection, to assure them that the church wants to continue to build an open and sincere dialogue with them, in search of the true good of man and society," he said at the end of a liturgy in the Sistine Chapel on April 20.

Dressed in light gold vestments, the pope read his four-page Latin message in a clear and forceful voice, paying tribute to Pope John Paul II and outlining the priorities of his own pontificate.

Pope Benedict said that like his predecessor, he considered the Second Vatican Council the compass for the modern church. In particular, he stressed his commitment to ecumenism and dialogue and said he was aware that concrete gestures were sometimes needed to promote breaking through old antagonisms.

At the same time, he said, the chief priority for the modern church is to announce Christ to the world. The church today has to renew its awareness of the task of reproposing to the world the voice of the one who said: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,’ the pope said. As he begins his ministry, the new pope knows that his task is to make the light of Christ shine before the men and women of today: not his own light, but that of Christ, he said.

The newly elected pope faced 114 cardinals seated at the same long tables used during the papal election and spoke from a chair beneath Michelangelo’s fresco, The Last Judgment. The 9 a.m. liturgy was broadcast live on giant television screens in a virtually empty St. Peter’s Square in which, the evening before, some 100,000 people had gathered for the dramatic announcement of Pope Benedict’s election and had cheered him at his first public appearance.

The pope said he had been completely surprised at his election and that he was beginning his papacy with two emotions: a sense of inadequacy and the confidence that God would help him.

As head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation since 1981, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was a controversial figure for many in the church because of his strong line against dissent, his disciplining of theologians and his criticism of some of the ways Vatican II has been implemented. In his first major talk as pope, he went out of his way to say he would proceed along the lines taken by his predecessor.

I want to forcefully affirm the strong desire to continue in the task of implementing the Second Vatican Council, he said. He said the documents of Vatican II were especially relevant to the modern church and today’s globalized society and that the council’s authoritative rereading of the Gospel would guide the church in the third millennium.

Pope Benedict also stressed the need for close unity between the pope and the world’s bishops. This collegial communion, he said, favors unity in the faith, on which depends in large measure the effectiveness of the church’s evangelizing efforts in the modern world. He asked bishops to accompany him with prayers and with advice, so that I may truly be the servant of the servants of God.’

Pope Benedict pledged to make the search for Christian unity a special priority. He called ecumenism a compelling duty and said he would spare no energy in trying to bring Christian churches together. He said ecumenism must go beyond theological dialogue and probe the historical motives for the divisions among Christians. What is most needed is that purification of memory’ so often mentioned by John Paul II, which is the only thing that can lead souls to welcome the full truth of Christ, he said.

Acknowledging his predecessor’s special relationship with young people, the new pope pledged that the church would continue to dialogue with them. He said he intended to travel in August to Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Daya tradition begun by Pope John Paul II.

Pope Benedict underlined the importance of the current eucharistic year, also an initiative of the late pope, saying the Eucharist would be at the center of the Cologne festivities and of the Synod of Bishops in October. He asked all the faithful to reflect on the centrality of the Eucharist. Many other thingsincluding church unity, evangelization and charity toward all, especially the poordepend on it, he said.

The new pope recalled Pope John Paul with great affection and said he felt encouraged by the late pontiff as he began his own papacy. I seem to feel his strong hand squeezing mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and listen to his words, addressed particularly to me in this moment: Do not be afraid!’ he said.

Pope Benedict said the death and funeral of Pope John Paul represented an extraordinary time of grace for the whole world. He said it was a moment in which one could feel the power of God who, through his church, wants to form a great family of all peoples.

In his promise to keep dialogue open, the new pope mentioned the followers of other religions and people who are simply searching for an answer to the fundamental questions of existence and have not found it yet. He said he made this overture with the awareness that the church’s mission is to bring the light of Christ to all peoples.

The pope spoke fleetingly about the church’s continued commitment to peace and justice issues. He said he would continue the dialogue of his predecessors with the various civilizations, convinced that the conditions for a better future in the world depend on mutual understanding.

Pope Benedict told the cardinals he felt an enormous weight of responsibility as the new pontiff, but was certain of divine assistance. By choosing me as the bishop of Rome, the Lord wanted me as his vicar, he wanted me to be the rock on which everyone can lean with assurance, he said. I ask him to supplement my scarce resources, so that I may be a courageous and faithful pastor of his flock, always obedient to the inspirations of his Spirit, he said.

News Briefs

The Diocese of Sioux City has reported that the highly publicized sale on eBay of what was purported to be a consecrated host was not finalized and that the Iowan who was selling the host has withdrawn it and given it to church officials.

The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference described Pope Benedict XVI as very open and pastoral, with a listening ear in a statement on April 19. Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., called the new pope a man of great humility and dedication to the discipleship of Christ, as well as a man of great intelligence.

The U.S. bishops have hired the second female law enforcement officer to head the office responsible for helping them apply their policies for preventing sexual abuse of children. She is Teresa Kettelkamp, who helped conduct the annual audits in 2003 and 2004 of U.S. dioceses and Eastern-rite eparchies to monitor compliance with the bishops’ policies.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

Catherine Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.”
Emma Winters October 19, 2018
A new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security could make it much more difficult for legal immigrants to get green cards in the United States. But even before its implementation, the proposal has led immigrants to avoid receiving public benefits.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 19, 2018
 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018
Kevin Clarke tells us about his reporting from Iraq.
Olga SeguraOctober 19, 2018