ROME (CNS) -- At a Rome press conference and again upon his return to London, a British cardinal said Pope Benedict XVI was the right choice.
"When trying to decide who should be next pope, you look at various possibilities, and a majority eventually comes out for one man," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster.
"This man has certain important characteristics, which are in the general public view -- very spiritual, open, courteous and thoroughly intelligent," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said at an April 20 press conference in Rome. "He's aware, as few others are, of the challenges facing the Church in today's society. If there was one candidate who particularly impressed us, I think he was outstanding."
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said the pope's election had brought "a sense of continuity, solidarity and affirmation of faith," as well as of a "job well-done" among the 115 participating cardinals.
He said that former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 78, had been a "very, very strong candidate," and was not surprised he won on the fourth ballot.
"When we went into the conclave, we weren't sure who would be elected -- it was a fascinating process, sitting in the Sistine Chapel under the 'Last Judgment,'" the cardinal told journalists in Rome's English College.
Asked about the final April 19 ballot, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said there had been a "gasp all-round" when Pope Benedict had reached a majority of "over 77 or 78 votes." He said the new pope had sat with his head down when Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez had approached to ask if he accepted.
"We knew it was ended then -- although he couldn't have been unaware that this was quite likely to happen, the moment it actually does is always a special one," the cardinal said.
"Benedict XVI now has a platform and place -- and wider responsibilities for the whole Church -- which he didn't have before, and I think he's aware of this," the cardinal said.
"At his age, he must feel he isn't a young man and be very conscious, not of unworthiness, but of the huge task that awaits him. What's important in a pope -- and he would appreciate this -- isn't just that he's doctrinally very secure, but also the kind of image of the Church we're going to have with him," the cardinal said.
"When he was head of his congregation, he had a particular task to do in making sure the Church's traditions were upheld, doctrinally and morally. Now that he's pope, it's an entirely different concept altogether. He has to be Peter for the whole Church -- not only a very intelligent man, but also pastoral and spiritual."
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, a London-based national newspaper, April 24, the cardinal said Pope Benedict was "courteous, highly intelligent and invariably kind," rather than the hard-line conservative often depicted in the world media.
"Returning home, I am surprised at the picture painted of Pope Benedict in some of the British press reports," he wrote. "Pope Benedict has, I know, a particular knowledge and concern for the Church in this country and a deep desire to further the cause of Christian unity with fellow Christians here."
On April 20, The Daily Telegraph bore the headline "God's Rottweiler is the new pope."
On the same morning -- the day after the April 19 election -- a headline in The Daily Mail said "Cardinals Pick the Rottweiler," while The Sun carried a headline that read "From Hitler Youth to Papa Ratzi."
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Contributing to this story was Simon Caldwell in London.
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