Latin American Church leaders concerned over pope’s potential impact
By Barbara J. Fraser
Catholic News Service
Pope Benedict XVI blesses a child as he leaves a prayer service in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.
(CNS photo from Catholic Press Photo)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While Church leaders in Latin America welcomed the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, some theologians expressed concern about the possible impact of the man who played a role in the investigation of several of their colleagues in the 1980s.
"He is a man with a very good grasp of the reality of today's world, of the relativism and moral subjectivity that dominate the world," said Bishop Andres Stanovnik of Reconquista, Argentina, secretary-general of the Latin American bishops' council, known as CELAM.
Bishop Luis Stockler of Quilmes, Argentina, who studied with the cardinal in Germany in the 1950s, characterized the new pope as "a man of God, intelligent and very humble," according to the Buenos Aires daily La Nacion.
Some theologians, however, worried that an overly intellectual approach could open a gulf between Church leadership and Latin America's 330 million Catholics. Several also expressed concern that the cardinal's homily at the Mass before the conclave reflected more concern with European secularism than with poverty and other problems afflicting much of the world's population.
The gap between the rich and poor is an increasing concern in Latin America, the region of the world with the largest percentage of Catholics. In Brazil and Colombia, the richest 20 percent of the population receives about 60 percent of the income, while the poorest 10 percent accounts for less than 1 percent. One-third of Peruvians and Guatemalans live on $2 a day; that figure increases to 40 percent in Ecuador and 58 percent in El Salvador.
"The hot-button issues for Latin America are not stem-cell research or abortion, but things like social justice and corruption," said Dominican Father Edward Cleary, who has worked in Bolivia and now directs the Latin American Studies Program at Providence College in Rhode Island. The question, he said, is: "Will this pope learn something from the Church in Latin America?"
Although Europe's 58 cardinal-electors constituted the largest bloc in the conclave, Latin America was second with 21. Some observers said they hoped the new pope would not pay more attention to revitalizing the European Church than to addressing problems in Latin America, where about one-third of the world's Catholics live.
"The Church has become a Third World Church, but (the new pope's) agenda is a European agenda," Brazilian theologian Jose Oscar Beozzo told CNS in a telephone interview. The choice of the name of a saint who evangelized Europe, Beozzo said, implies "that the central task of the Church and his pontificate is the re-evangelization of Europe."
An editorial writer for the Colombian daily El Tiempo wondered in print "if Benedict XVI will allow a reflowering of Vatican II and social inclinations in Latin America."
In his remarks to the cardinals at the end of the conclave, the newly elected pope pledged to "pursue the commitment to enact the Second Vatican Council," and Chilean Holy Cross Father Diego Irarrazaval, international coordinator of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians, said he hoped that a "renewing spirit" would persist.
"Joseph Ratzinger promoted that renewal at the council, and he can do the same now as universal pastor," Father Irarrazaval told CNS in a telephone interview. "I would like to see more faithfulness to the Gospel that opts for the poor and less adulation of human beings."
The Latin American theology that espouses the option for the poor came under fire from Cardinal Ratzinger when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian theologian who was silenced for a time in the mid-1980s because of his writings, told the Brazilian daily O Globo that he still saw "rigid positions" on the part of the Vatican that limited theological creativity in Latin America.
In his closing comments at the end of a Mass with cardinals April 20, Cardinal Ratzinger also mentioned other issues -- including ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and "social development…that respects the dignity of all human beings" -- that Latin American theologians are watching closely.
In Argentina, where the country's bishops took time out from an assembly to watch the announcement of the pope's election, Archbishop Domingo Castagna of Corrientes said, "We expect the new pope to be a pastor of the Church and a pastor to all, just like John Paul II and John XXIII."

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