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Pope Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI


When a plume of white smoke issued from the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday, April 20, the Christian world (well, the Catholic side of it) was informed of the election of a new Pope – Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, who will henceforth be known as Benedict XVI. He is the first German to occupy the post for almost a thousand years. At  78,  he is also one of the oldest persons to be elected to this august office.   


The reaction to his appointment has varied from the ecstatic to the utterly pessimistic. While members of the conservative Christian lobby have hailed his election as a move in the right direction, the liberal side has termed it ‘regressive’. Some cynics claim that given his age, the new Pope is at best a stopgap appointment! Now, that might be a slightly cruel way of looking at things given the fact that he is in excellent health and is known to be a person of very strong opinions.

God’s Rottweiler!

It is those opinions, incidentally, that have triggered off the debate over his election. Since his ordination in 1951, Ratzinger has forged a reputation as a strongly traditional Catholic. He has denounced  homosexuality as evil, questioned the validity of other religions, opposed the appointment of women in the church, and even suggested that Turkey be excluded from the European Union because of its Islamic roots. It was this commitment to Catholic orthodoxy that saw him being appointed the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (also known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition) in 1981.


He was very close to Pope John Paul II and there are many who believe that he played the iron hand to the former Pope’s velvet glove. His hard-line views earned him titles like “God's Rottweiler" and “the Panzer Cardinal” - the latter a jibe at his tenure in the German military during the Second World War. He deserted and ended the War in a US prisoner of war camp.  

A man of faith

It would, however, be totally unfair to brand Ratzinger as some kind of religious fanatic. He has an impeccable record of service to the Church and those who have met him describe him as a soft-spoken man with a scientific bend of mind. And while he may be accused of being conservative, no one doubts his commitment to the faith. He is believed to be an excellent communicator, speaks ten languages and is an accomplished pianist (with a preference for Beethoven). He has written several books, the most notable being Salt of the Earth, The Ratzinger Report, Introduction to Christianity and Milestones (his memoirs until 1977, when he was appointed Cardinal). Incidentally, his appointment as Pope has boosted their sales to the extent that in some countries, even the forthcoming Harry Potter has been relegated to second spot! His supporters claim that he will infuse new strength into the faith. His critics say that he will weaken it and create divisions. Few Popes have been accompanied by such contradictory perceptions. The coming days will whether Benedict XVI is, as his name indicates, a blessing to his faith or a curse. One thing is assured – Ratzinger will have a clear idea of the path he wants to follow. Christianity’s new Pope is a man who knows what he wants. For more information on the new Pope, try out the following links:

The Guardian’s web site has an excellent special section on Joseph Ratzinger at,12272,761767,00.html


The BBC asked eight commentators and theologians for their view on the new Pope. Read their opinions at


Read CNN’s detailed profile of the new Pope at


Find out the Vatican’s view of the new Pope at


Read excerpts from Joseph Ratzinger’s books as well as as essays and interviews given by him at

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