On April 14, 2005, Beliefnet invited prominent Catholic and non-Catholics in our "Virtual Conclave" to weigh in on what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany--now Benedict XVI--would bring to the papacy. Here's how they responded then--and, later, how they reacted to Tuesday's news.

"Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has my vote. He is a man of towering intelligence, integrity, and love for the Church, with significant academic, pastoral, and curial experience. He's published widely and been as candid and forthright about his convictions as it is possible for anyone to be."
--Russell Shaw, former press secretary to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops

"He is theologically brilliant. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for decades, he is well acquainted with the problems in the Church throughout the world. As a close collaborator with Pope John Paul, he is best equipped to continue the Holy Father's work. He is a polyglot and can continue in what we now see as the important ability to communicate effectively with the world. He is very familiar with the Vatican bureaucracy, so that he knows how things work in Rome, but is also experienced in pastoral ministry.

"Contrary to his ill-deserved reputation as the 'Panzercardinal,' His Eminence is a pleasant and friendly and brilliant man who is doing his best to serve the Church. It is nice to see that the world got to see a little bit of the real Cardinal Ratzinger when he presided at the funeral Mass. A few years ago, I would never have given him a chance to be elected, and it amazes me how his 'stock has risen.' I can't help but think that might be the work of the Holy Spirit. It is nearly miraculous."

--Domenico Bettinelli, publisher, Catholic World News

"Cardinal Ratzinger understands that the Church is not a Truth-of-the-Month club. Let's hope it stays that way. Under Ratzinger I dare say it would. It is the Pope's *job* to be out of step with the times. The idea that this is a "moment of growth" for the Church is to confuse the Church with a feminized university looking for a new Theology Department head. People still looking for the Church of Change disgust me because they have nothing but contempt for the 2000-year history of the Church. They view that history much as a wastrel heir views capital carefully accumulated over generations. The value accrued can at last be splurged on fashionable things! That is the liberal error. I suspect that progressives see the papal interregnum as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture the chair of St. Peter and preach heresy to the world. Ratzinger's great merit is that he has their number."
--Tom Bethell, editor, The American Spectator

"Cardinal Ratzinger is a theologian of the first rank, a deep and original thinker, and his theological prowess would serve him (and the Church) well. As a peritus/expert at Vatican II, he brings not just a wealth of theological acumen to the table, but he also has a keen sense of ecclesiastical history, after all, he participated indirectly in the Council and is in an excellent position to know, first-hand, what the authentic "spirit of Vatican II" is and how it should be implemented. I have no doubt that if he were elected, Cardinal Ratzinger would be an effective and good pope. He is a warm, congenial man, and the fact that he tends to avoid the spotlight when he can suggests a personal humility, another key ingredient for a good pope."
--Patrick Madrid, publisher, Envoy Magazine

"Cardinal Ratzinger is a brilliant man, and one of deep spirituality, as we saw at the funeral. I wouldn't be disappointed with a Ratzinger papacy, although the ink wasted on cant about "the enforcer" etc, would be, indeed, time wasted, distracting us from what I think a Pope Ratzinger would want us to do - focus more clearly on Christ."
--Amy Welborn, Catholic author and blogger


"I can honestly say that I would be extremely upset if Cardinal Ratzinger were elected the next pope. Given his powerful position wihin the Vatican during this papacy, I would not see this as a step ahead or a moment of growth in the Church. It would also reaffirm the Euro-centric hierarchy of the Church and a model of Europeans governing over Third World peoples."

--Dr. Michelle Gonzalez, Marymount University (currently doing research in Guatemala)

"Cardinal Ratzinger is indeed, as many have pointed out, a brilliant theologian. But he is a theologian who went from being one of the celebrated liberal Vatican II theologians to a theologian and Vatican official who has overseen a pulling back from the spirit of Vatican II. He has overseen the silencing of alternative voices/dissent, a reassertion of a more insular exclusivist theology and Eurocentric worldview which does not speak adequately the theological, social and interreligious challenges of the 21st century."
--Dr. John Esposito, Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding, Georgetown University

Posted on April 19, 2005:

"Obviously, the cardinals chose the safe way, the strong man who gives security in troubled in controversial times. In a way, I am glad because it will be extremely interesting to see the debate in the days to come. Like Jesus in the words of Luke's Gospel, card. Ratzinger will be a 'sign of contradiction.' It will be hard to stay in the middle. The movement and the controversy will be good for the whole church, to seek together the way to be true to Jesus' message of peace, love and hope in today's world. I hope as the new pope fights the 'dictatorship of relativism' (but you can't hide from a pluralistic world), he won't impose the dictatorship of absolute truth."
--Father Renato Lanfranchi, Brazil
"I am of course personally delighted at the election of Pope Benedict XVI. And dismayed by the instantaneous complaining and teeth-grinding that I hear on the left. Good grief--can't people at least offer a prayer for the Pope's health, happiness, and success? There will be plenty of time later to call him names and predict the end of the Church if not the entire world."
--Russell Shaw, former press secretary to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops
"It has been a disappointing and enlightening day! ...Ratzinger is a deeply intellectual, terribly narrow-minded pope in a time of great change and ferment. Just because he is really smart does not make him right, however. He will continue the previous pope's policy of selective listening (imagine being able to forgive the man who tried to kill you but being unable to talk to women religious who don't agree with you!) and Catholics who believe God gave them minds and hearts so that they might be used will continue to leave the Church. ...This is a religiously pluralistic world, and a pope who fails to understand that undermines all of us who strive to live lives of religious commitment. ...I grieve for the Church of my childhood."
--Rosemary Bray McNatt, Unitarian Universalist minister
"I share the elation and profound encouragement of untold millions of other Catholics around the world today at the news of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. This decision by the cardinals, and coming so quickly, is a clear and decisive message that absolute truth is real and it matters and the Church's duty is to uphold and proclaim it.

"May God grant our new Papa Ratzinger the health, wisdom, and sanctity he will surely need to carry out his mission on behalf of the good of the entire Church."

--Patrick Madrid, publisher, Envoy magazine

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