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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The New York Times > International > International Special > In St. Peter's Square, Optimism and Concern

The New York Times > International > International Special > In St. Peter's Square, Optimism and Concern:

Published: April 19, 2005

VATICAN CITY, April 19 - When the bells of St. Peter's rang out the news that a pope had been chosen, just after 6 tonight, thousands of people in Rome dropped what they were doing and ran to the Vatican, to see the new pontiff emerge on the balcony.

"The whole building emptied and we just moved as fast as we could, risking a heart attack," Giovanni Simeone, a 28-year-old architect, said still panting.

Patrizia Maglie, his co-worker, added, "The only thing that makes Romans run this way is a new pope - or a soccer match."

The tens of thousands gathered in anticipation, shouted "Brava, Brava" when Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez announced, "We have a new pope."

But the reaction was decidedly mixed when Cardinal Ratzinger's name was announced. Some slapped and shouted jubilantly. But an equal number stood by silently and listened. A small number of people wandered out of the square as he spoke.

Those who supported the election of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, saw him as a force of continuity with his wildly popular predecessor, John Paul II - even if they were not terribly enamored or familiar with the new pope himself.

"I happy because I respect the ideas and ideals of the previous pope and I think he'll continue in just like the old one," said Alberto Napoleone, 34, of Rome.

Indeed the greatest cheers in the new pope's short speech came when he mentioned John Paul II's name, to a chorus of enthusiastic whoops and cheers. The reception to Benedict XVI was much more measured, punctuated by polite applause.

But some well-known conservatives in the crowd were thrilled with a choice that they saw as bringing the church back to its core moral values, including its condemnation of homosexuality and birth control for women.

"Before we felt like orphans, but now again we have someone we can look to," said Rocco Buttiglione, an Italian minister whose appointment to the European Union Cabinet was rejected earlier this year, because of his conservative views on abortion and women's rights.

Calling the new pope "the greatest living theologian and one of the greatest intellectuals of central Europe," Mr. Buttiglione said the former Cardinal Ratzinger had been the "point of reference" in his own intellectual development.

But many in the crowd were openly and greatly distressed by the choice of the new pope - widely regarded as an extreme conservative on a wide variety of social issues. This included many Catholics who said he would take the church in the wrong direction.

"I am very, very upset because I was hoping for a more open pope, one who was more open to the problems of the world," said Paolo Tasselli, a retired bank worker and a practicing Catholic, who said he had hoped the church would give more rights to women and be more involved in social issues.

He said he had loved Pope John Paul II, who he felt was conservative on some issues but "open to the world" in many other ways. He said of the new pope, "I don't think this new one can do that."

The new pope and the old were closely allied, working together to maintain conservative church policies on issues like abortion, birth control and the ordination or women. But John Paul II nonetheless managed to charm more liberal Catholics with his charisma and world travels.

One theologian, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called Cardinal Ratzinger "John Paul II, without the imagination."

Many others seemed simply perplexed with a choice they saw as moving the church backward. John Paul II, they said, seemed inclined to move the church into the real world. Benedict XVI, they felt, would return to a focus on narrow dogma and doctrine.

"In the German context, he's perceived of as very conservative and has struggled with the German bishops and German Catholics a lot," said Florian Mussgnug, a German who is teaching at a university here.


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