Wednesday, April 20, 2005

E. J. Dionne on Benedict XVI

A helpful essay on the new pope--who he is, and why he is pope.

Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratzinger, is not afraid to be unpopular. That is why he was elected pope Tuesday. It is also why he will face excruciating difficulties in holding together the most ethnically, geographically and ideologically diverse religious institution in the world.


Thus the question: Why did the College of Cardinals make such a controversial choice, and with such dispatch? The simple answer is that the 78-year-old pope is a transitional figure. Barring a medical miracle, it is likely that a new pontiff will be elected in a few years. One need not be Machiavelli to suggest that potential popes sitting in the Sistine Chapel decided they did not have the votes or the standing to make it this time, and would use a Ratzinger papacy to prepare for the next.


Pope Benedict XVI was elected because he had a clear sense of where the church needs to go. He will make liberal Catholics and many moderates uncomfortable. They should see his election as a sign of how urgent it is to revive -- and make credible -- Vatican II's hopeful vision of a church that has much to teach the modern world, and much to learn from it, too.


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