Children wave flags in front of a pictur
Joerg Koch  /  AFP - Getty Images
Children wave flags in front of a picture showing Germany's Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in Marktl am Inn, the birth town of the new pope, on Tuesday.
By Producer
NBC News
updated 4/19/2005 10:06:20 PM ET 2005-04-20T02:06:20

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected by the college of cardinals as Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday. The former cardinal hails from Germany and has been viewed as a staunch conservative in his homeland.

NBC News' Andy Eckardt, the network's chief producer in Germany, reports on sentiment toward the new pontiff.

Who is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI? 
Well, he is a very controversial man in Germany. At the moment, the Germans are very split over him because he is a very conservative cardinal. He has always had the reputation of being a very strong-minded and conservative person, with very strong ideas that not everybody likes.

I think what you will see at the beginning is that you will see a lot of clapping, and a lot of tears as well, because I think some people surely didn’t want him as a pope in Germany.

But, what I also think will happen in the next couple weeks is that Germans — especially Catholic Germans — will become very proud that after more than 500 years they suddenly have a German pope again.  (Adrian VI, 1522–1523, was widely considered to be Dutch, but was born in an area of the Netherlands that is now part of modern day Germany).

What does this choice say about what the cardinals were hoping to achieve with this selection?
I think what it shows — and many of our experts have said this is that the cardinals are very united behind this new pope.

Given the short time in which he was elected — one and a half days — it shows that they wanted to show unity and that they had a candidate they all support. I think it’s a good sign.

What is the German reaction?  
The German reaction, especially what NBC News Martin Savidge has already seen in his hometown of Marktl am Inn, is excitement.

The small town that has only 2,690 inhabitants and is very deep in the heart of southern Germany, in Bavaria, close to the Austria border. They are very excited. They are probably going to have a lot of celebrations in the next few days.

But, even in that town, you see as a microcosm what Germany has been saying all along over the last few weeks as Cardinal Ratzinger emerged as a front runner — that they are split. A lot of people feel that he is too old, that they want a younger pope. Some say that he may be an ailing pope very soon if his health deteriorates because of his age.

Certainly he has an image problem compared to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. He is seen as very grim and very reserved. He is not a communicator as John Paul II was and that may be one of the first things he needs to overcome to become more of a “people’s pope.” 

With Germany almost split among Catholics and Protestants, what does this mean for Germans as a whole?
I think what will matter in the end is that Germany will have a German pope. 

That is something to be proud of and something that has not happened for a very long time.

The last pope of German descent was Adrian VI (1522-23), who was coincidentally also the last non-Italian pope before John Paul II. There was also a series of six popes from what is now modern Germany in the 11th, ending with Stephen X (1057-58).

In modern times, it will be special. What I think he will try to do is gather Catholics in Germany and in the world behind him and try to open up a little bit. I think that the Germans, once they realize what a great opportunity this is for the German Catholic Church, I think they will be very, very supportive.

Was Cardinal Ratzinger a true Vatican insider? Is that why he was elected?
Well one of the reasons why I think he was elected was because he was very close to John Paul II and he was a favorite to John Paul II.

Over the past few years, in his position as the head of the College of Cardinals, he probably gathered a lot of support behind him and that’s where the votes came from. Especially because he was so close with John Paul and John Paul always supported him in everything he did. I think that is one of the reasons why he has now become pope.      

Does this mean for the Catholic Church in Europe?  
For the European church, it’s good to have European pope. If it’s one that they had a good majority behind, that’s also a good sign.

The next weeks will show [how Europe feels] because he has been criticized by academics and theologians for a lot of things that he’s said. So, there are a lot of people still split over him.  

Andy Eckardt is an NBC News producer based in Mainz, Germany. He has been in Vatican City for the last month.

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