|Pope Benedict XVI blesses a joyous crowd at St. Peter's Square. Tne new pope was a close associate of John Paul II.|
The election of Ratzinger, the powerful dean of the College of Cardinals, after 24 hours of voting sends the signal that there is widespread confidence in the new pope's ability to build on the successful, 26-year pontificate of John Paul.
But the 78-year-old child of the Alpine foothills of Bavaria is also likely to be viewed as a transitional figure, because of his age, and as a controversial choice among the church's more moderate factions. His dour public personality and ferocious devotion to church doctrine during his nearly 25 years as a high-ranking Vatican official has earned him the nickname "God's Rottweiler" in news accounts around the world. He has a reputation as a staunchly conservative protector of Catholic beliefs.
Ratzinger is the oldest cardinal to be named pope since Clement XII, who was also 78 when he became pope in 1730. He is the first German pope since Victor II (1055-1057).
Ratzinger has decried any brand of feminism that makes women "adversaries of men." He wrote a letter to U.S. bishops urging them to deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights. He once called homosexuality a tendency toward "intrinsic moral evil" and called the outcry over pedophilia by priests in the USA a "planned campaign" against the church.
During the pre-conclave Mass on Monday in St. Peter's Basilica, Ratzinger declared that the Catholic church is "moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires."
"Benedict XVI sees himself as guardian of authentic Catholic tradition, respected for consistency and yet willing to listen. He's spent decades discerning authentic Catholic doctrine, so I don't expect him to change his stripes," says Alan Schreck, chairman of theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
Even in his native Germany, Ratzinger is controversial. A recent poll for Der Spiegel news weekly showed Germans opposed to Ratzinger becoming pope outnumbered supporters 36%-29%, and 17% had no preference. The poll of 1,000 people, taken April 5-7, gave no margin of error.
But some church experts suggested Ratzinger's image was an unfair stereotype and that he could emerge as a more moderate voice.
"Despite the gross and rather unfair representation that's been given in his cartoon image in the progressive media, he's not the grand inquisitor he's made out to be," says Russell Shaw, a former press secretary to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Schreck says the cardinal disparaged by liberals as "the enforcer" — or worse — is really a charming, intelligent man, willing to listen. Schreck recalled seeing Cardinal Ratzinger meeting with theology students, many highly critical, in the 1980s in Toronto and being impressed with his open mind.
Ratzinger's choice of the name Benedict XVI seemed to be a gesture toward those who fear he could be too hard-line to be a 21st-century pontiff. The last Pope Benedict served from 1914-1922 and become known for quietly moderating the orthodox rule of his predecessor Pius X.
Pope Benedict XV tried in vain to end World War I and sent such large quantities of wartime aid to Turkey that a statue of him was erected in Istanbul. Ratzinger, ironically, has publicly cautioned the European Union against admitting Turkey, a majority Muslim nation.
Born in the Bavarian town of Marktl Am Inn in 1927 — he celebrated his 78th birthday Saturday — Ratzinger's young life was shaped by the horrors of Nazism. Raised by a policeman father and a mother who worked as a hotel cook, Ratzinger entered the seminary as a teenager, but World War II intervened
Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth in 1941, when he was 14, at a time when membership was compulsory. He quickly was allowed to leave the group because of his seminary training. "Ratzinger was only briefly a member of the Hitler Youth and not an enthusiastic one," wrote his biographer, John Allen.
During the war, Ratzinger was drafted into an anti-aircraft unit that protected a BMW factory making aircraft engines. The workforce included laborers from the Dachau concentration camp.
Ratzinger has insisted he never took part in combat. He deserted in April 1944 and spent a short time in a prisoner of war camp. His brother Georg told the London Times recently that they both opposed the Nazi regime but were powerless to resist.
"Resistance was truly impossible," Georg Ratzinger told the paper. "Before we were conscripted, one of our teachers said we should fight and become heroic Nazis, and another told us not to worry as only one soldier in a thousand was killed. But neither of us ever used a rifle against the enemy."
After the war, Ratzinger's career in the church quickly progressed. He was ordained in 1951 at age 24 and was appointed the bishop of Munich in 1977 by Pope Paul VI.
An accomplished pianist who loves Mozart, Ratzinger was elevated to cardinal in three months — and met Karol Wojtyla, who would become Pope John Paul II, that same year.
John Paul brought Ratzinger to the Vatican in 1981, where he served as leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is responsible for enforcing church orthodoxy. For years, he has lived in a small apartment just outside St. Peter's Square over a bus stop, normally walking to work each day.
In the 1960s, Ratzinger was a theological adviser at the Second Vatican Council, the influential conference that moved the church in a more moderate direction.
But in later years, he seemed to move against what he saw as the excesses of that movement, setting the tone for his reputation as a stickler for a traditional interpretation of Catholic dogma.
In 1966, Ratzinger was recruited to teach at Germany's prestigious Tubingen University, but left in 1969 after he was the frequent target of student protests and moved to a more conservative university.
During his years at the Vatican, Ratzinger was known as a kind of papal policeman who sometimes summoned priests and theology professors to Rome to discuss their non-orthodox views.
Yet in St. Peter's Square on Tuesday, the tens of thousands who gathered to see the smoke that signified a pope had been chosen seemed united in the view that God had spoken and that Ratzinger would lead the church forward into an uncertain century.
Deacon Shane Crombie from West Meath, Ireland, said, "This is the man the Lord has chosen, and I'm happy, and I would have been happy with anyone they chose. ... The new one should be expected to live up to John Paul II. His death was the closure of one chapter. This is the beginning of a new one."Contributing: Marco R. della Cava in Rome and wire reports