The newly-elected Pope, Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, April 19, 2005. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
Pope Benedict XVI: Conservative ideas, new way forward
April 14, 2008
In this photo from the L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
The election of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope in the April 2005 conclave didn't come as a surprise. By some accounts, he had been the frontrunner to succeed John Paul II for months.
His selection, on the surface, seemed to represent a clear victory for the more conservative side of the church. As cardinal, Ratzinger attracted his share of criticism from more liberal factions. He was not known as a man given to compromise on matters of church orthodoxy.
And he makes no apology for that. Just hours before the very conclave that elected him, he delivered a homily at mass to warn the church (and the College of Cardinals) about the dangers of what he called radical individualism.
During the homily, he said: "Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labelled today as fundamentalism whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching, looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards."
That his remarks garnered an unusual round of applause from the 114 other cardinals in attendance underscored that his views carried much weight among the "Princes of the Church."
Selected key events from Pope Benedict's first years as pontiff:
August 21, 2005: A crowd in the hundreds of thousands — estimated to be as large as 1 million — gathers in Cologne, Germany, to hear Pope Benedict's mass at World Youth Day.
November 29, 2005: A Vatican directive bans from the priesthood "those who practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture."
May 27, 2006: Pope Benedict XVI pays an emotional visit to Wadowice, the birthplace of John Paul II.
CBC STORY: Benedict calls for 'Saint' John Paul
September 12, 2006: During a speech at Regensburg University in Germany, Pope Benedict quotes a 14th-century text of a Byzantine emperor that proves to be inflammatory to Muslims.
November 30, 2006 During a historic visit to Turkey, Pope Benedict visits the Blue Mosque, becoming only the second pope from Rome to ever visit a Muslim place of worship.
May 9, 2007: On a plane to Sao Paulo, Brazil, Pope Benedict warns politicians who support abortion rights that they risk excommunication from the Catholic Church. A papal spokesman later downplays the remarks.
July 10, 2007: The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issues a document restating its belief that the Catholic Church is the only true church of Jesus Christ.
March 10, 2008: The Vatican updates the traditional seven deadly sins by introducing seven modern-day mortal sins, including environmental pollution and genetic manipulation.
April 15, 2008: Pope Benedict begins a trip to the United States.
Ratzinger, an accomplished pianist who speaks several languages, was born in Marktl am Inn, Germany, on April 16, 1927.
His father, a policeman also named Joseph, came from an old Bavarian farming family of modest means. He took an anti-Nazi stance after Hitler came to power, and the family moved several times before settling in a village outside the city of Traunstein in 1937.
When he turned 14, Ratzinger was required by law to join the Hitler Youth. His membership was brief and unenthusiastic. Two years later, he was enrolled in an anti-aircraft unit but has insisted he never fired a shot.
He deserted the army in 1945 and was briefly held in an American prisoner-of-war camp. Yet, a calling to the priesthood was already in his sights. Ordained in 1951, he began lecturing as a full professor of theology later in the decade.
In the late 1960s, he chafed at the growing liberalism within the University of Tuebingen, where he had become the chair of dogmatic theology. He moved to the University of Regensburg in Bavaria.
He was named the Cardinal of Munich in 1977 and was eventually elected dean of the College of Cardinals 25 years later.
Ratzinger continued along a conservative path as prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine, serving as Pope John Paul's defender of the "clear faith" between 1981 and 2005. That zeal in enforcing orthodoxy attracted quite a few labels over the years. Ratzinger was called variously "The Hammer," "Cardinal No" and even "God's Rottweiler."
Before the conclave, critics said he was too divisive, too polarizing. A 2005 poll in the German news weekly Der Spiegel even showed more Germans opposed Ratzinger's ordination as pope than supported it.
Some also said that, at 78, he was too old to lead the world's 1.1 billion Catholics. And yet he was elected on just the fourth ballot, the first German pope since the 11th century. Did the cardinals see something in him that allowed an early lead to quickly grow?
"He is the most misunderstood person in Rome," Father Tom Rosica of Salt and Light Catholic TV told CBC News at the time of Pope Benedict's coronation. "He has a warm, kind, pastoral side."
Some no doubt consider Pope Benedict XVI to be a "transitional" pope — a code word for a reign that would be considerably shorter than John Paul II's 26 years. But "transitional" does not necessarily mean status quo.
A modest pace of change
In terms of personal style, Pope Benedict marks a change from his popular predecessor. While he may not possess the theatrical talents of John Paul, he is seen as an exceptional teacher and brilliant theologian with an endearing, if low-key, charisma.
Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
The crowds have responded in large numbers to his speeches in the Vatican. As John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter noted in Time magazine in 2006, people came to "see" John Paul, but they come to "hear" Benedict.
Despite some unflinching moral stances over Benedict's first three years on issues such as homosexuality, the arch-conservative reforms some feared have failed to materialize. His approach on practical matters, Vatican observers say, has been somewhat more cautious.
That's not to say that Pope Benedict has been a stranger to controversy.
Comments he made while quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor during a September 2006 speech infuriated many in the Muslim world. Street protests raged from Gaza to Turkey until the pope made a personal apology a few days later.
But Pope Benedict went well beyond words in trying to ease the rift. Three months later, during a visit to Turkey, he visited Istanbul's Blue Mosque, becoming only the second pope to ever enter a Muslim house of worship. (His predecessor, John Paul II, became the first when he visited a mosque in Damascus in 2001.)
"It really was considered here as a striking, symbolic moment," the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault reported from Istanbul. "They are falling all over themselves in the Turkish media, many of them anyway, to say that this trip went infinitely better than they thought it would. The tone here is actually quite positive at this point."
It was a bold, brilliant step toward reconciliation. And a sign that "Cardinal No" is willing to show some flexibility as pope.
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