The selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the 265th pope Tuesday provoked a range of reactions on Yale’s campus, with some expressing strong opinions about the cardinal’s conservative background and others taking a wait-and-see approach.
Ratzinger, a 78-year-old conservative German cardinal who had been Pope John Paul II’s closest adviser on doctrinal matters, was chosen by a secretive conclave of cardinals to lead the Catholic Church. Ratzinger took the papal name Benedict XVI.
The Rev. Robert Beloin, Yale’s Roman Catholic chaplain, said Ratzinger is a capable, if controversial, choice.
“Cardinal Ratzinger is a scholar of keen theological intellect,” Beloin said. “On the other hand, he is a polarizing figure in debates on dogma.”
Among Catholic Yale students, the cardinal’s conservative positions on social issues provoked some divided reactions.
Choose Life at Yale member Jackie Costrini ’06 said Ratzinger’s election on the second day of the Vatican conclave showed unity among the cardinals. Costrini said she was excited about the prospect of a Ratzinger papacy, during which she expects the new Pope to continue to pursue conservative social positions.
“I think he is a firm defender of the truth of the Catholic Church,” she said. “He was John Paul II’s right hand man … He will provide [many] of the same things John Paul II provided, and was so loved for.”
Charles Lupica ’08 said he was disappointed that a more liberal cardinal was not chosen for the papacy.
“Basically he’s like John Paul II but without the charisma,” Lupica said. “All the conservatism without the charm.”
Gary Gregoricka ’06 said while he would have preferred a more liberal pope, he sees Ratzinger’s selection as reflecting a desire for continuity within the church.
“They didn’t want someone who was going to radically change what Pope John Paul did,” Gregoricka said. “Cardinal Ratzinger has a very similar moral philosophy.”
Others said Ratzinger’s stated views on hot-button issues of church theology were not necessarily an indication of how he would act as pope.
Joseph Britton, an Anglican and associate dean of the Yale Divinity School, said he will be interested to see how closely Ratzinger’s actions as pope reflect his previous theological writings. Ratzinger served as head of the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which advises the Pope on Church doctrine.
“Simply to think of him as a conservative is a bit shallow,” he said. “He has developed a persona as a theological watchdog for the church. It will be interesting to see how he writes on these things as pope.”
Ifeanyi Anidi ’06, co-chair of St. Thomas More’s Undergraduate Council, said it was too early to tell how Ratzinger would lead the church. But he said the selection of the second consecutive non-Italian pope sent a clear signal that the Roman Catholic Church is more of a global church than it has been in the past.
“It doesn’t mean that Italian popes won’t be chosen in the future, but it definitely is a message to the Catholic community around the world that the domination of Italians is basically over,” Anidi said.
For Catholics and others looking for an indication of what Ratzinger’s papacy will look like, Beloin said the way the new pope explains his choice of the name Benedict XVI might shed some light on things to come. Beloin credited the last Pope Benedict, who ran the Church during World War I, with healing rifts within the church.
“It will be very interesting to see how he explains his choice, [which is] key to understanding the direction we’ll see his papacy go,” Beloin said. “Choosing a papal name is not done lightly.”