German Catholics express joy at election, hope for continued reforms
By Jonathan Luxmoore
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) -- German Church leaders expressed joy at the election of a countryman, Pope Benedict XVI, as pope.
"Whether or not this leads to a religious revival here, it's a cause of great joy that a German has been elected," said Peter Antes, president of Germany's Association of Church Historians. "But he is also viewed as a more Roman than German figure now -- a truly catholic theologian, who thinks in universal Church categories, rather than in a necessarily German way."
The chairman of Germany's We Are Church movement, which has campaigned for voluntary priestly celibacy and the ordination of women, said he hoped Pope Benedict would favor "a Church of dialogue and collegiality" in line with reforms at the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council.
"I don't expect him to accept our demands. But he is an intellectual person, and I hope he has the wisdom to see what's needed in the Church," Christian Weisner, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from Germany April 19, shortly after the new pope's election.
Pope Benedict "must realize he's now in a different position. He has to be pope for the whole Church, and I think this will be an enormous task for him," he said.
News of the Rome election was celebrated by more than 500 people in the main square of Pope Benedict's southern Bavarian birthplace of Marktl am Inn, as well as in nearby Traunstein, where he spent part of his childhood.
In a congratulatory message, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder described the election as a "great honor for the whole country," adding that the 78-year-old pontiff knew "the world Church like no one else" and was a "worthy successor" to Pope John Paul II.
German President Horst Koehler said the election was a cause of "special joy and pride" and invited Pope Benedict to attend World Youth Day festivities in Cologne in August.
"Benedict XVI faces great challenges," Koehler told Germany's Catholic KNA agency April 19. "But he's a person of great wisdom and faith, and I'm certain he will continue the great involvement in peace and human rights of his predecessor, John Paul II."
Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen, vice president of the German bishops' conference, described Pope Benedict as "a wise person and good theologian."
Father Paul Zulehner, dean of Vienna University's theology department, told CNS April 19 that Pope Benedict's election had "placed the Church in a new position," but also predicted he would be a "pope of transition."
He added that the new pope -- the first German pontiff since Victor II in the 11th century -- was remembered in Germany as a consultant, or "peritus," at the Second Vatican Council.
"Those who hoped for a new departure on celibacy and women's ordination will resign their hopes -- the new pope has worked to stop these things, and they'll now be beyond discussion," he said.
"But this election could also provide the basis for a religious revival in German-speaking countries. There's a feeling that he's one of us, and that we're now the center of the Church," he said.
Germany's Catholic Church makes up approximately a third of the country's population of 82 million and has faced divisions during the past decade over moral and social issues.
Weisner said he believed the conclave had been rushed against hopes of a "fuller discussion," but that Pope Benedict had been a "very modern theologian from the beginning."
"There's already a split in the Church here -- although the Church was never uniform, so this is normal," he said. "The positive thing is that we know him and think we know his theology. Let's hope he can open up a little."
German Church representatives held a press conference at Rome's Teutonic College shortly after the April 19 election, although Vatican officials said only German-speakers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland were permitted to attend.
In a statement posted on the German bishops' Web site, Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, chairman of the German bishops' conference, described the new pope as a "living symbol of the continuing witness of the Church."
Cardinal Lehmann, who often disagreed with positions taken by Pope Benedict, said that as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the new pope had one of the most sensitive tasks in the Church: the maintenance of the substance of Catholic faith.
"It is almost obvious that, with the variety of current opinion, not least in the Church itself, not every (person) could or would follow him. But, even from those who disagreed with him, he won respect for his theological achievement and the recognition of his nonconformist courage in dialogue and the confrontation with contemporary forces," the cardinal said.
Cardinal Lehmann said there was no doubt that Cardinal Ratzinger deliberately chose the name Benedict to refer back to Pope Benedict XV, a champion of Catholic social teaching who worked to reconcile the Church with the modern world.
Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne said in a telephone call to his archdiocesan press office: "We will experience through the new Holy Father a good and consistent continuation of the pontificate of his great predecessor, John Paul II. If some people accuse him of being too conservative, the answer is: Every Christian must always be a conservative, and not a producer. A Christian should not produce the Gospel, he must take it on and keep it."
Cardinal Meisner, a close friend of Pope Benedict, called him "the Mozart of theology," adding that he and other cardinal-electors were "happy with the work done."
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg told German television: "(As a conservative,) he'll have it harder than others, especially in Germany. He once told me: I have a certain image in Germany. I'll have to live with that."
Among other reactions, Pope Benedict's 81-year-old brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, told Germany's RTL television April 18 he believed his brother would "make a good pope" but was also "a very different type than John Paul II."
"They had good relations, but he doesn't have the capacity for such direct, immediate contact with people", the priest said. "My brother has achieved a great deal in life, but this pontificate could be too heavy a burden for him."
The secretary of World Youth Day, Msgr. Heiner Koch, said April 19 that Pope Benedict would "create a deep link" with young people, adding that he hoped to discuss the new pope's participation in the August festival after his installation.
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Contributing to this story was Michael Lawton in Cologne, Germany.

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