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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 April, 2005, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Munich hails papacy 'honour'
By Clare Murphy
BBC News website in Munich

Whether they like or loathe his conservative doctrine, those walking in the wet shadow of Munich's twin-towered Frauenkirche, where Cardinal Ratzinger was consecrated as a bishop nearly 30 years ago, were agreed.

His election as the first German pope for the best part of 1,000 years is seen here as an honour for Germany, a country which is starting to reassert itself on the international stage after the traumas of the 20th Century.

Prayers in the Frauenkirche
Bavarians have been praying for the new Pope
"I'm actually from the village he was born in!" says an excited Martina Ertl, a teacher in her twenties. She objects strongly to his hard line on abortion, contraception and homosexuality, "but it's still great to have a German pope."

"It's definitely a good thing for the country," agrees Rene, a decorator. "Even from the perspective of a non-believer like me."

And among those who do believe, many of whom saw him in action when he was bishop of Munich, his election is seen as a boon for church as well as country.

Critics have attacked not just his tough conservative stance - speculating that it may alienate churchgoers of the 21st Century who prefer a more flexible doctrine - but also wonder whether the 78-year-old is charismatic enough to engender much affection.

Academic prowess

"People have got to get know him better," says Bettina Utzschmidt, a 54-year-old nurse. "At the moment he seems a rather distant academic type, but I think it will only be a matter of time before people warm to him."

"He's really not as hard as he's being portrayed."

Cardinal Ratzinger leaving Munich in 1981
Ratzinger left Munich to work in the Vatican in 1981
But others hope that at the same time the academic prowess of the theologian, who taught at various prestigious German universities before becoming head of the doctrinal body which took over from the inquisition, will also be appreciated.

"He is a phenomenally clever man, and if people really read carefully what he said - rather than just picking bits out and presenting them out of context - they would have a better idea of him and his faith," said Gabrielle Oettl, a pensioner.

"I wouldn't deny however that he has made some inflammatory statements on issues like homosexuality - although we shouldn't forget that has long been the stance of the Catholic Church," she added.

"He's a true believer," said Dr Michael Werner, a lawyer. "And he takes a tough but fair line on several matters of faith. I think that is absolutely right."

'Not significant'

It could well prove the case that the new pope proves less rigid as pontiff than he appeared as cardinal.

Bavarians are going to have to make the most of this pontiff while they've got him
Gerhard Krautmann
Ecclesiastical artist
"I'd predict that he'll actually be a bit more relaxed," said Mrs Oettl.

But all are aware of the fact that, while the new pontiff may be in apparently excellent health, he is not a young man.

No-one is expecting him to go the same way as Damasus II, the German pope of 1048 who lasted just 23 days in the post. Nonetheless, "transitory" was a word used more than once.

"He could well prove polarising with his hardline views, but I just don't believe that his is going to be a long, significant pontificate," said Gerhard Krautmann, an ecclesiastical artist.

"I think it won't be long before we're looking at a younger pope - possibly from South America. Bavarians are going to have to make the most of this pontiff while they've got him."


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