ROME (BP)–Those wanting a more liberal pope likely will be disappointed by the election of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger April 19 as Roman Catholics’ new pontiff.
The 78-year-old Ratzinger, who took the name of Pope Benedict XVI, is seen as one of the more conservative cardinals who entered the conclave April 18. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger was in charge of enforcing Catholic orthodoxy.
On issues from abortion to homosexuality to female priests, Ratzinger is seen as a staunch conservative.
Pro-life Catholic groups applauded Ratzinger’s election.
“We thankfully recognize the staunch pro-life commitment of Cardinal Ratzinger during the whole of his episcopacy and we are confident that as Pope Benedict XVI, he will continue his strong defense of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life,” Thomas Euteneuer, president of the pro-life Catholic group Human Life International, said in a statement.
Priests for Life — which championed Terri Schiavo’s cause during her final days — also praised Ratzinger’s election.
“For decades, [Ratzinger] has been a strong voice in favor of life, clearly articulating the Church’s teachings,” Priests for Life national director Frank Pavone said in a statement. “In particular, he has explained how the Church must be the conscience of the state. We look forward to working together with and under the leadership of the new Pope to advance the Culture of Life.”
Pope Benedict XVI replaces Pope John Paul II, who was considered a champion of pro-family causes and who died April 2.
In a Mass that opened the conclave April 18, Ratzinger criticized postmodernism, a worldview that says there is no absolute truth. He presided over the Mass because of his senior position in the Vatican.
“How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking?” Ratzinger asked. “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
The pro-choice group Catholics for a Free Choice released a statement saying it is “deeply concerned” that Ratzinger’s election signals “continued dissension within the church.”
In a 1991 report Ratzinger criticized nations that legalize abortion.
“… [A] State which arrogates to itself the prerogative of defining which human beings are or are not the subject of rights, and which consequently grants to some the power to violate others’ fundamental right to life, contradicts the democratic ideal to which it continues to appeal and undermines the very foundations on which it is built,” he wrote. “By allowing the rights of the weakest to be violated, the State also allows the law of force to prevail over the force of law.”
Ratzinger’s election also drew criticism from homosexual groups. According to Advocate.com, in 1986 Ratzinger called homosexuality an “intrinsic moral evil.”
In addition, a few years ago he authored a statement criticizing the move to grant same-sex couples the legal benefits of marriage.
“Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil,” Ratzinger’s statement read.
Homosexual activists had hoped for a pope who was more liberal than Pope John Paul II. Following the news, homosexual websites called Ratzinger everything from “antigay” to a “homophobe.”
“Today, the princes of the Roman Catholic Church elected as Pope a man whose record has been one of unrelenting, venomous hatred for gay people,” Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement.
But pro-family leaders were much more open to the news.
“Joseph Ratzinger represents a decisive vote for the long traditions of Catholicism. As director of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he has been the theological watchdog of the Vatican for years,” said Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson. “Although he will be affable and approachable, he will in all probability continue the conservative trend in the Roman Catholic church.”
James Leo Garrett, distinguished professor of theology emeritus at Southwestern Seminary, said Ratzinger’s election indeed signals the extension of strict orthodoxy within the Roman Catholic Church.
“His election makes almost certain that the disciplining of deviant theologians will continue and very likely that this papacy will be more confrontational and less interactive with contemporary culture than John Paul II’s,” Garrett said. “… Those who anticipated a charismatic preacher and warmhearted pastor as the next pope may have to wait for another conclave. Evangelicals may be prone to celebrate Ratzinger’s orthodoxy on the Trinity, Christology, and no salvation outside Christ but will need to remember Ratzinger’s role in ‘Dominus Iesus’ in 2000, which said that Protestant and evangelical churches ‘are not Churches in the proper sense,’ a statement reckoned by some as a reversal of Vatican II, which implies [Protestants and evangelicals are] ‘sects.’”
Nonetheless, Garrett said, “papal history has had its surprises, and hence we must wait patiently and prayerfully to see what kind of pope the German cardinal proves to be.”
With reporting by Gregory Tomlin.