He could have been a Pius, he could have been another John Paul, but Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger chose the name Benedict — following the underappreciated Pope Benedict XV, known as a peacemaker in the church and world during World War I.
"It's a wonderful name and a gesture of conciliation and reaching out," says Rev. Dan Donovan, a theologian at St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto.
"For these people, these are not superficial things. This is an important symbolic act — it's promising."
Despite his history as the enforcer — worse words are often used — of Catholic doctrine and a heresy hunter, Catholics in Canada and the United States say many things are possible now that Ratzinger is pope.
"Historically, popes can surprise us," says church historian Mark McGowan. "They can appear one way when they go into the conclave, but when they put on white, they are no longer a civil servant and now represent the church universal and, oftentimes, they change."
But his choice of name was the only promising note in the election, say women and those hoping for reform. For them, Ratzinger was an unbelievable, even a devastating, choice.
"I'm in shock," said Marie Bouclin, the Sudbury-based co-ordinator of Women's Ordination Worldwide. "Though we wish him well, it saddens us. Concerns about women won't be heard. Cardinal Ratzinger was a bureaucrat, he was the architect of centralization of the church, he made non-ordination of women a point of doctrine, and he lacks the vision to move the church out of its current state of despondency.
"The best thing for us is that they'd just ignore us."
Ratzinger's election is a harsh reality check for some Catholics, such as Rosemary Ganley, assistant editor of the Catholic New Times, a progressive bi-weekly published in Toronto.
"As progressives, it's clear we're not welcome. But this lies ahead: we will return to the best of Catholic tradition — mysticism, prayer, scripture study and the primacy of one's conscience — and working for peace and justice with new partners, such as the environmental movement and the anti-globalization movement. We've spent a lot of spiritual energy hoping for internal reform — now we'll take our Catholic energy and use it for the good of the world."
Joanna Manning, author of Is the Pope Catholic?, said bluntly: "It couldn't have been worse. The dream for reform in the structure of the church has died and it also signals the death of creative theology in the church."
She said Ratzinger made his intentions very clear in his sermon at the opening of conclave, when he warned of the dangers of moral relativism.
"He will set a very rigid doctrinal course for the church. Issues such as women's ordination: it's probably the end of the road. As cardinal, he sent a message there is no place in the church for dealing with the modern world and liberation movements.
"Things will get tougher for Catholic politicians such as (Prime Minister) Paul Martin. It will be a clear sign for bishops to crack down on non-conformity."
Ratzinger's election doesn't send a hopeful message to people in developing countries, said Ted Schmidt, editor of the Catholic New Times. "He's a gifted man, but an academic who has no sense of the suffering in that part of the world."
Diann Neu, co-director of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual in Silver Spring, Md., said: "I'd hope the new pope would take us into the 21st century, not back to the 20th century.
"Cardinal Ratzinger is the architect of the anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-reproductive choice policies the Vatican has held over 26 years. Having him as pope means these policies will only become more entrenched. I can't believe they really elected him. I can't believe the Holy Spirit spoke to them this way."
For some young people at Salt and Light Television in downtown Toronto, the view was sharply different.
"I felt a sense of relief," said producer Mary Rose Bacani. "There was such a clamour for change, and not all change is good. I see someone who will build on the legacy of John Paul II. I believe in the infallibility of the pope, and because he was in charge of doctrine, he will make sure that is preserved."
Her colleague, Christopher Ketelaars, 22, said the Vatican is the "last ethical voice in politics. You see governments and the United Nations turning to the pope. If we changed our religion to accommodate the secular world, we'd lose a lot of value."
The Catholic Civil Rights League, which seeks to introduce Catholic views into debate on issues such as same-sex marriage and reproductive issues, welcomed Ratzinger's election.
"It is helpful to have clear theology coming from the Vatican," said executive-director Joanne McGarry. "A cardinal who is a distinguished theologian and administrator with a keen intelligence — that will be good for the church."
The overarching message in the election is continuity and the likelihood of a brief pontificate, said McGowan, principal of St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto.
Yet, the choice of the name Benedict is intriguing and hints at the possibility of change: Benedict XV, pope from 1914 to 1922, maintained neutrality during World War I — so much so, the French thought he was pro-German, and the Germans thought he was pro-Allies, while his detractors called him "Pope Maledict." He proposed a seven-point peace plan and pleaded with the Allies not to humiliate Germany at the end of the war, said McGowan.
St. Michael's Donovan said the new pope — who was his doctoral thesis supervisor for a time — is the brightest theologian among the cardinals. "He is deeply spiritual, has great integrity and considerable culture."
When Ratzinger arrived in Toronto in 1986, he met an overflow crowd of 6,000 and some protestors at Varsity Arena. He was fascinating, in part, for what some perceived as a change in his thinking. At Vatican II, he was seen as progressive and forward-looking but, by the mid-'60s, was disturbed by documents on the role of the church in the modern world.
Fintan McBride, a retired Toronto teacher and married priest, said: "I hope the head of the inquisition will see the light — the majority of Catholics in the world are calling for a greater role for women and optional celibacy, so Catholic priests don't have to convert to Anglicanism."
Muslim and Jewish groups were among many extending a welcome to the new pope. They made no reference to Ratzinger's 2000 document that warned, in effect, that not all religions are equal and followers of other faiths "are in a gravely deficient situation."
"We're hoping for someone who will continue with the same message of John Paul II, who promoted tolerance, human rights and social justice," said Halima Mautbur, of the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations.
Victor Goldbloom, of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said in a statement: "We hope his upbringing in Germany has given him a special sensitivity to the tragic history of the Jewish people, and that this understanding will be a source for continued interfaith outreach."
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