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Benedict XVI: German cardinal elected pope

Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratsinger of Germany, waves from a balcony of St. Peter's Basilica
Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd in St. Peter's Square after being elected by the conclave of cardinals Tuesday.Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters
/ Source: news services

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, a hard-line guardian of conservative doctrine, was elected the new pope Tuesday evening in the first conclave of the new millennium. He chose the name Pope Benedict XVI and called himself “a simple, humble worker.”

An inauguration Mass for the new pope was set for Sunday at 10 a.m. local time, 4 a.m. ET. Benedict XVI decided to spend the night at the Vatican hotel where cardinals have been staying, and to dine with the cardinals.

Ratzinger, the first German pope since the 11th century, emerged onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, where he waved to a wildly cheering crowd of tens of thousands and gave his first blessing as the church's 265th pope. Other cardinals clad in their crimson robes came out on other balconies to watch him.

“Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me — a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,” he said. “I entrust myself to your prayers,” the pope said.

“The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers,” the new pope said in his first public address. “I entrust myself to your prayers.”

The crowd responded by chanting “Benedict! Benedict!”

In Washington, President Bush offered his congratulations, calling the new pope "a man of great wisdom and knowledge."

If the new pope was paying tribute to the last pontiff of that name, it could be interpreted as a bid to soften his image as the Vatican’s doctrinal hard-liner. Benedict XV, who reigned from 1914 to 1922, was a moderate after Pius X, who had implemented a sharp crackdown against doctrinal “modernism.”

Crackdown on ‘relativism’ On Monday, Ratzinger, who was the powerful dean of the College of Cardinals, used his homily at the Mass dedicated to electing the next pope to warn the faithful about tendencies that he considered dangers to the faith: sects, ideologies like Marxism, liberalism, atheism, agnosticism and relativism — the ideology that there are no absolute truths.

“Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism,” he said, speaking in Italian. “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

His conservative actions include a letter of advice last year to U.S. bishops on denying communion to politicians who support abortion rights, which some observers viewed as a slam at then Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.

He also accused the media of fueling the priest sex abuse scandals of recent years. "I am personally convinced," he one told an interviewer, "that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the U.S., is a planned campaign."

And Sister Jeannine Gramick, a nun whom he ordered to stop ministering to gays and lesbians in the United States, for those who believe the Catholic Church needs to be more tolerant.

Disciplined church dissidents
Ratzinger served John Paul II since 1981 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In that position, he has disciplined church dissidents and upheld church policy against attempts by liberals for reforms. He turned 78 on Saturday.

The new pope had gone into the conclave with the most buzz among two dozen leading candidates. He had impressed many faithful with his stirring homily at the funeral of John Paul II, who died April 2 at age 84.

Ratzinger is the oldest elected since Clement XII, who was chosen in 1730 at 78 but was three months older than Ratzinger.

Cardinals had faced a choice over whether to seek a younger, dynamic pastor and communicator — perhaps from Latin America or elsewhere in the developing world where the church is growing.

Bells ringing from the Vatican earlier confirmed that cardinals had reached a decision and that, along with white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney, caused crowds in St. Peter's Square to chant, “Viva il Papa!” or “Long live the pope!”

The square quickly filled as thousands of people began streaming in as word of the decision spread.

The conclave of 115 cardinals lasted for two days, and no conclave in the past century had lasted more than five days. The election that made John Paul II pope in October 1978 took eight ballots over three days.

Confusing signals, quick election
White smoke poured from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel and the bells of St. Peter’s pealed at 6:04 p.m. (12:04 p.m. ET) to announce the conclave had produced a pope. Flag-waving pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square chanted: “Viva il Papa!” or “Long live the pope!”

The bells rang after a confusing smoke signal that Vatican Radio initially suggested was black but then declared was too difficult to call. White smoke is used to announce a pope’s election to the world.

It was one of the fastest elections in the past century: Pope Pius XII was elected in 1939 in three ballots on one day, while Pope John Paul I was elected in 1978 in four ballots in one day. The new pope was elected after either four or five ballots over two days.

“It’s only been 24 hours, surprising how fast he was elected,” Vatican Radio said.

The timing, more than an hour before the end of the afternoon session, indicated that the pontiff may have been chosen on the fourth ballot, although it was not immediately known. Voting began Monday night with a single ballot, and there were two ballots to be held Tuesday morning and afternoon.

The cardinals took an oath of secrecy, forbidding them to divulge how they voted. Under conclave rules, a winner needed two-thirds support, or 77 votes from the 115 cardinal electors.

Challenges ahead
Ratzinger succeeds a pope who gained extraordinary popularity over a 26-year pontificate, history’s third-longest papacy. Millions mourned him around the world in a tribute to his charisma.

While John Paul, a Pole, was elected to challenge the communist system in place in eastern Europe in 1978, Benedict faces new issues: the need for dialogue with Islam, the divisions between the wealthy north and the poor south as well as problems within his own church.

These include the priest sex-abuse scandals that have cost the church millions in settlements in the United States and elsewhere; coping with a chronic shortage of priests and nuns in the West; and halting the stream of people leaving a church indifferent to teachings they no longer find relevant.

Under John Paul, the church’s central authority grew, often to dismay of bishops and rank-and-file Catholics around the world.

Pope John XXIII was 77 when he was elected pope in 1958 and viewed as a transitional figure, but he called the Second Vatican Council that revolutionized the church from within and opened up its dialogue with non-Catholics.

Benedict will have to decide whether to keep up the kind of foreign travel that was a hallmark of John Paul’s papacy, with his 104 pilgrimages abroad.

Germany trip likely
He may already be locked into one — to his home country: the mid-August Catholic youth day gathering in Cologne, Germany. John Paul had agreed to visit and organizers have already spent millions of dollars in preparations.

Navarro-Valls said he expected Benedict XVI would attend.

“It seems obvious,” Navarro-Valls told RAI television, noting that young people in the crowd had already started chanting “Benedict XVI” the way they chanted “Giovanni Paolo,” John Paul’s name in Italian. He added that he hadn’t discussed it with the new pope but that it seemed likely, since the event was in the pope’s homeland.

“With the new Holy Father, we can be assured of continuity with his predecessor and of a personality who will lead the church with great responsibility before God,” said Heiner Koch, the prelate in charge of the event.