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New Pope Delights and Disappoints

DW staff / AFP (sp)April 20, 2005

Around the world, presidents and religious leaders have hailed Joseph Ratzinger's election as Pope Benedict XVI. But liberals among the faithful fear the new Pontiff will bring little reform.

The new Pontiff is at the center of world attentionImage: AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano

As church bells tolled around the world to celebrate the election of Pope Benedict XVI and Germany jubilated at unexpectedly providing the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics with a new spiritual leader, praise flowed in from leaders around the world.

Papst Beerdigung George bush Kofi Annan
U.S.President George W. Bush, left center, and First Lady Laura Bush, left, greet UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, center right, and his wife Ann, center, at the funeral for Pope John Paul II into St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Friday April 8, 2005.Image: AP

"He is a man of great wisdom and knowledge," US President George W. Bush said, recalling Ratzinger's sermon at John Paul II's funeral. "His words touched our hearts and the hearts of millions. We join with our fellow citizens and millions around the world who pray for continued strength and wisdom as His Holiness leads the Catholic Church."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a statement saying he "congratulates His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on his assumption of the papacy. His Holiness brings a wealth of experience to this exalted office."

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi hailed the new pontiff, "with devotion," while Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski welcomed the naming of Ratzinger.

"We welcome with confidence and hope the choice of a representative of the German people, with whom we have come to a historic reconciliation and are building a common Europe, to lead the Church," Knasniewski said.

Warm words in Latin America

Even in Asia, Latin America and Africa -- where the Catholic Church has the majority of its followers -- disappointment that the new Pontiff was not from the developing world was largely overridden by joy at the prospect of a new experienced spiritual leader.

Church bells rang across Latin America, the heartland of Roman Catholicism. Latin America is home to about half of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, but membership hemorrhaged away to rival evangelical churches during Pope John Paul II's 26-year pontificate.

Bishops and priests largely welcomed the election of Ratzinger. The new pope "has fought to maintain the doctrine and the faith," said the Archbishop of Panama, Jose Cedeno, who rejected criticism of Ratzinger's conservatism. Ratzinger "like John Paul II knows the reality of the church and the world," added the archbishop.

Even churches in communist Cuba rang their bells after Ratzinger was named as the next pope.

Der brasilianische Präsident Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva Porträtfoto v. 16. Dezember 2004
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da SilvaImage: AP

President Lula da Silva of Brazil, the world's biggest Catholic country, voiced hope that the new Pontiff would promote "peace and social justice at the same time as reviving the spiritual and moral values of the Church."

"A continuing beacon for the faithful"

In Nigeria, where there had been hopes that the local prelate Cardinal Francis Arinze would become the next pope, there was nevertheless a warm welcome from Catholics to the election of Ratzinger.

"Since he has been chosen by divine inspiration, all Catholics will work with him. We don't feel bad at all," said Father Chinedu Nwafor, the priest in Arinze's home village of Eziowelle.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal ArroyoImage: AP

The Philippines, Asia's largest Roman Catholic nation, hailed Wednesday the election of Pope Benedict XVI, with President Gloria Arroyo calling his appointment a "continuing beacon" for the faithful.

"We share in the jubilation over the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new pope," Arroyo said in a statement. "I am certain that Pope Benedict XVI will serve as a continuing beacon leading the 1.1 billion Catholics of the world across the trials and challenges of the millennium."

Beijing meanwhile called on the new pope to break ties with Taiwan and stay out of China's internal affairs to create the conditions for better Sino-Vatican relations.

"We are willing to improve the relationship between China and the Vatican on the basis of two principles," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang in a statement.

Israel cautiously hopeful

Israel voiced hope the new pope would forge closer ties between Jews and Catholics. US Jewish lobby groups cautiously welcomed Ratzinger's election despite his membership of the Hitler Youth movement during World War II.

"I am cautiously optimistic that because he was a close confidant of John Paul II that he will continue pursuing his achievements," said the founder and head of the Los Angeles-based The Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Hier.

"As a child, he grew up in an anti-Nazi family. Nonetheless he was forced to join the Hitler Youth movement during the Second World War," Hier said. "There's been no evidence to show that he committed any crimes or has been implicated in crimes, but clearly joining the Hitler Youth is not something you want to boast about on your CV."

Liberal groups dismayed

But, away from the accolades, liberal groups have expressed reservations about the election of the ultra-traditional Ratzinger as the new pope at a time when the Catholic Church is riven with disillusion and tarnished by sex abuse scandals. Concerns center particularly around the Church's views on issues such as divorce, female priests, homosexuality and contraception.

"When I heard the announcement my heart sank, quite frankly," Sister Maureen Fiedler of We Are Church, a global movement of Catholics committed to renewal, said in Rome.

"One of the major changes I would have hoped for in a new pope was an openness to women," said Fiedler, a member of the Sisters of Loretto order. "He simply has no record that would suggest that he's open ... to more than 50 percent of the Catholic community, to more than 50 percent of the world."

A US organization representing victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on the new pope to discipline bishops who protected "serial molesters" while ignoring victims.

In Britain Marie Stopes International, a group working on reproductive health issues around the world, said the election of the new pope was a missed opportunity.

"It looks like this particular cardinal will continue with the line on contraception, condoms, and HIV prevention that Pope John Paul II had," a spokesman said. "It's regrettable because that will impact so terribly on the lives of millions of people, particularly in the developing world."