VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although critics of Pope Benedict XVI worry that his election as pope could lead to divisions within the Church, a U.S. priest who has worked closely with him predicted that "the Church will come to love him."
As the chief defender of Church doctrine, the new pope "had to make decisions that were not popular, but he's not a policeman -- he's an evangelizer," said U.S. Dominican Father J. Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Cardinal Ratzinger has headed for more than 23 years.
Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the congregation's promoter of justice, said he felt "deep joy and great hope for the future" when the white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel chimney and the bells of St. Peter's Basilica rang out.
"He is a man of great compassion and great wisdom. I know that from direct experience, and I'm sure that the Lord has chosen him because the world needs wisdom and compassion," Msgr. Scicluna said.
The shortness of the conclave "means that the cardinals saw something in Cardinal Ratzinger that led them to elect him very rapidly," said Jesuit Father Luis Ladaria, secretary of the International Theological Commission.
The pope's colleagues cited his years of Vatican experience as a likely key factor in his peers' decision.
After more than 23 years of "working with one of the greatest popes in the history of Christendom, he has a very clear understanding of what the Church needs," Father Di Noia said.
Msgr. Scicluna said that over the years Pope Benedict has met and talked with bishops from all over the world.
"His ability not only to understand, but also to be very close to the immediate problems of so many different continents really makes him an extraordinary pope," he said.
Preaching the homilies for Pope John Paul II's funeral and the Mass preceding the conclave allowed Pope Benedict to publicly outline the course he would chart for the Church.
One of the "ideological currents" that he sees as pushing the world toward a "dictatorship of relativism" is the secularism that has led to a decline in the number of Catholics, particularly in his native Europe.
"He is deeply concerned for the re-evangelization of Europe," Father Di Noia said. "He will want to reach young people in those countries very much in the way that Pope John Paul did."
The new pope's choice of a name also reflects that concern.
"Benedictine monasticism was one of the main roots by which the faith was transmitted all over Europe for 1,000 years," Father Di Noia said.
Nevertheless, Cardinal Ratzinger's colleagues do not expect him to be a strictly European pope.
"My idea of him is not of a German pope," Msgr. Scicluna said. "He is a pope for the universal Church, and he has lived that in his ministry in the Roman Curia for 23 years."
Asked whether Pope Benedict could have as significant an impact on Western Europe as his predecessor did on Eastern Europe, Father Ladaria was more cautious.
"It's possible," he said. "God will tell us."
U.S. Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said Pope Benedict "has been very faithful in his role as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and I think he will be faithful in his new role as father of the Church."
The U.S. bishop said the new pope "from the depths of his heart ... was not wanting to be divisive" in his previous role as defender of Church doctrine.
"I think he will be as fraternal and caring as he can be" as pope, Bishop Farrell said.
Concerning how the new pope will address the task of Christian unity, the bishop said he thinks Pope Benedict is "someone who understands all the complexities of our ecumenical task before us."
"In my experience, he has always been open and charming to the Orthodox and Protestants we have brought to him," Bishop Farrell said.
"I'm looking forward to the goodness and kindness" he will bring to this task, he said.
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Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz.
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