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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Viewpoints: Pope Benedict XVI
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's election as Pope Benedict XVI has met with different reactions from different religious figures across the world - Catholic and non-Catholic.

We asked eight commentators and theologians for their views.

Father Hans Kung, dissident German theologian

Tariq Ramadan, Muslim theologian

Father Emile Blaser, South Africa

Dr Sam Gregg, Acton Institute in Rome

John Wilkins, former editor of Catholic newspaper The Tablet

Israel Singer, chairman, World Jewish Congress

Lavinia Byrne, ex nun and supporter of female ordination

Leonardo Boff, Brazilian theologian and promoter of "liberation theology"



Father Hans Kung of Germany, was stripped of his authority to teach at Catholic universities for questioning church teachings

The election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope is an enormous disappointment for all those who hoped for a reformist and pastoral pope.

But we must wait and see, for experience shows that the papacy in the Catholic Church today is such a challenge that it can change anyone: someone who went into the conclave a progressive cardinal can emerge as a conservative pope (Montini - Paul VI). Someone who went into the conclave a conservative cardinal can emerge as a progressive pope (Roncalli - Johannes XXIII).

The name Benedict XVI leaves the possibility open for a more moderate policy. Let us therefore give him a chance: as with a president of the US, we should allow a new pope 100 days to learn.

At all events, he faces tremendous tasks which have been piling up for a long time and which were not tackled by his predecessor: the active advancement of ecumenical relations between the Christian churches; the realisation of the collegiality of the pope with the bishops and the decentralisation of church leadership, which is desired on all sides, in favour of a greater autonomy of the local churches and the guarantee of an equal footing for men and women in the church and the implementation of the full participation of women at all levels of the church.

Tariq Ramadan is a Muslim theologian based in Geneva and Paris. He has been involved in inter-faith dialogue

It is really important to the Muslim community how the Pope deals with the intra community dialogue, how he deals with different views and trends within the Catholic Church, because this will give us an idea of how he will deal with other faiths. The perception is that he is not so interested in diversity, he wants a return to the fundamentals, to what he perceives as the essentials of Catholic teaching.

Another concern is that Pope Benedict XVI has a more narrow approach to the religious content of Western societies, that he wants to return to the centrality of Christianity in Europe.

We Muslims are building our presence in Europe and we are worried that the Pope will reduce what he sees as a struggle against secularism there to a struggle between Christianity and secularism. He may forget that there is a great legacy of spirituality coming from other religions and this could be a very dangerous reduction of our common roots and our common hopes.

Father Emile Blaser, a former general secretary of the Bishops Conference in Africa, is now the director of the Catholic Radio station, Radio Veritas

My initial reaction to the election of Cardinal Ratzinger was one of great surprise and, to some, extent fear because of what he stood for as the President of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. He was always a hardliner.

But, on reflection, he is a very affable sort of person, he's a holy man and he's liked by people. If his election has been a surprise, maybe his pontificate will be a surprise. I am happy with Benedict XVI - he's been the right hand and the left hand of Pope John Paul II and so I think he will continue the late Pope's policies. From what he's uttering so far, he seems to be open and the sort of person we need for the future.

There wasn't any real disappointment that there wasn't an African pope - I don't think either Africa or the Church would be ready.

You don't have to be African to deal with African problems - if there is an openness, African people are open to the Holy Father whoever he might be.

On the subject of a very South African problem, HIV/Aids and the use of condoms, I can't see the church changing its approach under a new pope. There are churches in South Africa that are advocating abstinence and that is really what the Church will want to advocate.

There are priests and bishops who will follow the church's teaching with regard to the use of condoms - but they will use a partial solution in their dioceses. That solution is: if you can't abstain, then use a condom. I think I feel a certain trend in that direction.

Dr Sam Gregg of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Rome has made a study of Pope Benedict XVI's theology

Pope Benedict XVI will continue the authentic interpretation of Vatican II that John Paul pioneered. There will be a clear, strong intellectual proposition in defence of Catholic orthodoxy. There will be an attention to the Christian unity that can only be founded upon the truth and there will be a continued critique of moral relativism and the type of secular fundamentalism that we find rearing its head in the EU and the UN.

We only have to look at those churches that have embraced the liberal agenda: they are collapsing because they don't join churches that have anything to say to people. Cafeteria Catholicism, kumbaya Catholicism doesn't attract people and this is part of the very bold statement the college of cardinals has made.

I think there is going to be a particular attention to culture. The name Benedict is very revealing. Many people regard St Benedict as very much the saviour of Western civilization as a consequence of the Barbarian invasions that were happening just as the Roman Empire was collapsing. So, I think culture will be a priority.

John Wilkins is a Catholic writer

One of Pope Benedict XVI's priorities will be Europe, where the congregation is in free-fall.

I think his diagnosis is that European civilisation is in a crisis of decline. I am sure the Pope will deliver, as a man of towering intellect and a towering theologian, very powerful attacks on what he says the "dictatorship of relativism" - in other words his implication is that if you try to talk outside relativism you are simply crushed.

Now, what we have in the West are pluralistic societies, societies that are trying to be built on the acceptance of difference and which do not have one overriding system or ideology or faith. If the Pope were to start saying that pluralistic societies are, by definition, relativistic ones, I think we would be in great trouble. But, I think a man quite as brilliant as him wouldn't make that error.

Israel Singer is the chairman of the World Jewish Congress

We view Pope Benedict XVI as an outstanding intellectual, as an authentic Catholic and as a person who, despite his conservative and authentic views, had the ability to be able to reach out.

He has spent his time over the last 20 years speaking publicly against anti-Semitism and changing Catholic doctrine on that subject. So I have to take him at his word.

He said that the passages in the Christian Bible condemning individual Jews that have been used to justify anti-Semitism should be regretted.

I'm pleased to have a partner in dialogue as the head of a church of 1.2 billion people with that kind of view. And it is our goal to see to it that in the future years under his papacy that there is no slippage from the tremendous successes that we've had during the papacy of John Paul II.

He was, after all, the theologian that gave the underpinning to John Paul II for many of the changes that took place.

Author Dr Lavinia Byrne is a former nun and supporter of the ordination of women

It's extraordinary that somebody who is associated with the most right-wing and conservative view of the church has been appointed to a position where he is expected to be a bridge-builder. The duty of the pope is to hold the middle ground and to ensure that there isn't a split between conservative and liberal elements.

I find it deeply ironical that Joseph Ratzinger has been called to hold this middle ground. There is an old adage that says, "God writes straight with crooked lines," and here we have a possible example.

Whatever the political complexion of the new pope he has to address certain issues: one is about the place of women in the Church. It is no longer good enough to say we are un-ordainable or to dismiss us, as Aristotle did when he said that a woman is a misbegotten male.

Those of us who have been educated - and often in Church or convent schools - have aspirations which are radically different from those of our grandmothers. The Church needs to acknowledge its own place in developing these aspirations and to meet them by offering the full range of ministries to us, including ordination to the priesthood. Otherwise its rhetoric about the dignity of the human person is empty.

There are also issues to do with sexuality: these range from the place of homosexual community within the Church, to the place of a scientific understanding of fertility. The document banning artificial contraception, Humanae Vitae, is nearly 40 years old and since then scientific endeavour has created far more refined understanding of the natural infertility of women. So the fact that nature is not always open to fertility has to be taken on board.

Especially ironic is the issue of globalisation. The Church condemns globalisation and widespread influence of corporations such as Shell and Coca Cola, but it is one of the most potent of the globalising agencies in the world. By demanding a uniform response from people, a "one-size fits all" response from people - it's actually doing the anti-globalising lobby a huge disservice.

I think Pope Benedict is highly intelligent and pretty honest, so actually the demands of his office are going to mean he cannot dodge these questions. And if he does dodge them, the Church will hit the buffers.

Brazilian Leonardo Boff is a Brazilan theologian and an advocate of liberation theology

I feel let down because I was expecting someone who would bring hope in the sense of a new chapter in the Catholic Church which would be more open to dialogue.

I really believe that the Church is much more than the pontificate in the Vatican.

The Church is enormous and comes from the dream of Jesus Christ, which extends all over the world.

I personally believe that Cardinal Ratzinger has a profound spirituality, is a man of great virtue, but as well as these virtues, you need to have an ample vision of the world.

Do you agree or disagree with any of the viewpoints expressed above? If so, please let us know.

In response to Matthew Wentworth's remark that: "the beliefs should remain the same, otherwise you might as well give up on religion altogether"; I suggest that this is a classic conceptual slippery slope argument. In fact, it is quite possible to seek to interpret the scriptures without abandoning faith altogether.
Simon Clarke, Sheffield, UK

What seems to be lost in all the pomp, ritual, and media coverage is the history and authenticity of the Protestant Reformation as a powerful move of God. Those calling themselves protestants who have commented positively, or in the very least indifferently, towards the passing of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI have forgotten what they are protesting and have abandoned the cause of Christ. And the media has not offered any time to real protestant voices who oppose the pope and the Roman Catholic Church as enemies of the Biblical Gospel.
Cameron Porter, Abbotsford, Canada

On the subject of condoms and HIV/AIDS in Africa. It is an intellectually limp argument to hold the Catholic Church responsible for the suffering and death toll. The late Pope didn't suggest abstinence alone to prevent the spread of AIDS. He said also that a man should have sexual relations only with his wife, and to stop having sexual relations, on the side, with regular girlfriends, casual sexual partners and prostitutes. Women's groups in Africa tell us that many men have multiple partners, and it seems almost an impossibility to persuade these men either to use condoms and/or change their sexual habits - resulting in the corresponding expotential growth of the disease.
Christine, Vancouver, Canada

The Catholic Church is not is not a democracy set up by men, but rather founded by Christ and has maintained its principles for 2000+ years. Those who would change this never really understood the Church, and need to find a church that will suit their own egos. How can they refer to themselves as Catholic, when they serve and believe only in themselves? This includes Mr Kung, Ms Byrne, Fr Boff and all the rest.
Bill, Chicago

Reading these opinions makes one realize how few people understand Catholicism. Obviously these speakers only have their own self interest and agenda in mind. Not the Faith and the good of the Church. We need to be more focused on saving souls not being politically correct.
Anita Salsedo, Fresno, Calif.

It mystifies me how people seem to be laying the AIDS epidemic at the door of the Catholic Church. The reason why condom use isn't more widespread isn't because the church preaches against them it's because of African men's cultural preferences. If people were following the churches teachings they would either be faithful to their partner or abstain altogether, and then there would be no AIDS problem.
Susan, Dublin, Ireland

It is disturbing to see the Catholic Church moving steadily towards rigidity and authoritarian positions. After all, the movement Jesus of Nazareth began was profoundly anti-establishment and anti-status quo and ran contrary to both the political and religious authorities of the first century. Jesus' position was that truth might be eternal, but that our understanding of it was always open to improvement. Otherwise, there would have been no need for his ministry or the teachings of the New Testament.
Peter Walsh, Sunapee, New Hampshire, USA

Saying that the terms "liberal/progressive and reactionary/conservative have no place in the Church" is quite asthonishing. Have you any evidence to back the idea that there's no progressive and conservatives wings among Catholics, or is it just what you'd like without taking any account of the reality (stupid example: who was Galileo? And by the way, what did Luther in first place that made him popular?). It is quite optimistic to claim that being part of a Council is enough to understand better than anybody else what the Council produced. The truth is anybody could be part of whatever Council and at no moment acting accordingly. By the way, the faith is supposed to be the faith in the holy scriptures, isn't it? Not in whatever human that got elected by human in the city of Rome (otherwise, that would be written in the Bible; but it's not). The big challenge for the Catholic Church is probably to keep up with modernity - the same old story. But it have the feeling the new pope has been chosen to go back to fundamentalism, like one century ago when a pope invented from scratch Papal infallibility. After all, religions nowadays seems really succesful only when they go the harsh way, calling any moral discussion "bleating".
Mathieu Roy, Strasbourg, France

It is very interesting that Papa Ratzi, comes to the seat of St Peter, as one who was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the department within the papacy that was originally known as the Inquisition. Interesting in the sense that that entity was responsible for some of the most gruesome atrocities commited against christians who did not subscribe to some popular Catholic beliefs during the period of the dark age: 538-1798. Will we see an emergence of that kind of spirit of intollerance and persecution under Pope Benedict XV1?
Bishop, St Mary, Jamaica, WI

For all those clamouring for change within the Church and saying we want this, we want that: If they are so put off by the teachings of the Church why are they still with the Church? Why don't they move to a church that does ordain women or approve abortion or whatever their gripe is?

If the Holy Father tomorrow said "do what you want everything is ok, if you feel like it go ahead", how many of those same people would still be dissatisifed? Quite a few I think because most of them only like the sound of their own voices and playing the victim.
Sean, London

I think it is too early to really tell what the new Pope has in store for the Catholic church. He may even not have a detailed plan for the church for that matter. It is important to realize and appreciate the fact that he definetely has a vision and the way he will go about achieving those goals is entirely upto him with the assistance of other people both from within and out of his 'office'. I strongly believe that the world should not compare what the previous Pope did for this world with what the current Pope is going to or likely to do for the Catholic church, or come up with unnecessary contrasts. The world should avoid perceiving the Pope as a perfect man, he, like no other man must be facing some adjustments to make and new things to learn about his current status. Let us consider what is truly the right thing to do other than what we would like to be the right thing to do.
Maria Opiyo, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Dr Kung and Leonardo: You know that Cardinal Ratzinger did try dialogue with you. You just have to accept that there is a point at which one's ideas stop being Catholic and one has to make a choice: To continue being catholic and review one's own thinking, or leave the Church. At any rate, Dr Kung, one can't accuse an old friend for following the ideas of Christ and His Father. To those who demand priesthood for women. What made you think that anybody (male, female, married, non-married, etc.) could demand from God the power to forgive sins, or to convert bread and wine into God himself? Priesthood (ministerial and ordinary) is a gift from God for our salvation, and He gives it to whoever he pleases.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Mexico

Every religion has a doctrine to uphold. Be it Catholicism, Church of England, Muslim or Judaism. Thus what the Pope upholds is the Catholic doctrine - like it or leave it. Just like we have seen the Anglican religion being watered down to make room for European style modernity, the Pope should stand firm and refuse to add or subtract from the Word of God. Even the Bible teaches us that the way of the Lord is 'hard and difficult'.
Azu Okoye, New Paltz, NY, USA

The "ecumenical dream" died with the installation of Cardinal Ratzinger. Ratzinger was the author of the recent Dominus Iesus Papal Encyclical which paraded the old dogma that the Roman Catholic Church is the "one true church" and that all other churches are fakes. When he speaks of unity, as he did in Dominus Iesus, he means unity can only be achieved through other Christians converting to Roman Catholicsm. Sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide is the only answer.
Ian Murray, Hamilton, Scotland

Given a First World that derides Third World spirituality, the Pope must hold firm against the "dictatorship of relativism" that is common today. Catholicism is not defined by every whim emanating from the radical minorities of the First World. It is the faith of Jesus Christ, interpreted through the centuries by the Church and her leadership.
Ernesto M. Obregon, Birmingham, Alabama, USA

Even though the election of Pope is partly political, the decision was nonetheless inspired by God. Especially as a Catholic, it is wrong for anybody to say they are dissappointed by the choice of a conservative as Pope. It was God's will. We should not be Christians because of any attraction to the politics of faith, or because it will make our lives easier (in fact, it makes life harder). There is only one reason to be a Christian: because the Christian story is true.
Ian Smith, Virginia, USA

It is disturbing to see the Catholic church moving steadily towards rigidity and authoritarian positions. After all, the movement Jesus of Nazareth began was profoundly anti-establishment and anti-status quo and ran contrary to both the political and religious authorities of the First Century. Jesus' posiiton was that truth might be eternal, but that our understanding of it was always open to improvement. Otherwise, there would have been no need for his ministry or the teachings of the New Testament.
Peter Walsh, Sunapee, New Hampshire, USA

The most critical thing for the Pope will be the moral credibility of the Church . If he doesn't address the issues of contraception, sexuality, married priests and women priests, the moral credibility of the Church will be further diminshed. He needs to address these issues - not bury his head in the sand. Further he needs to ask himself the question, for example, with the shortage of priests and with the many women who want to become priests, that maybe God is trying to send him a message and he just needs to listen .
Kim Lyon, London & Munich

It is noticeable that the people who make comments about the Church in Africa, do not come from Africa. Day by day, the Church teaches people about marriage, the family, continence and respect for other people. That is why in Catholic Uganda the number of new cases of Aids has dropped by half, while in Botswana, where there are very few Catholics, nearly half the population is now infected by Aids. When will the world wake up and smell the coffee?!
Gordon Umbaye, Nairobi, Kenya

The terms liberal/progressive and reactionary/conservative have no place in the Church. Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, is a Catholic - unlike most of his critics he actually attended the Second Vatican Council and is thus well placed to authentically teach its teachings... If these detractors of Benedict XVI [such as Hans Kung, Lavinia Byrne and Leonardo Boff] truly believe their faith, they will except and embrace his election as the will of the Holy Spirit and stop bleating!
Chris, London England

The big challenge for the Catholic Church is probably to keep up with modernity - the same old story. But I have the feeling the new Pope has been chosen to go back to fundamentalism, like one century ago when a pope invented from scratch papal infallibility. After all, religions nowadays seems really succesful only when they go the harsh way, calling any moral discussion "bleating".
Mathieu Roy, Strasbourg, France

With Aids killing millions of people in Africa and the rest of the world it should be important for Pope Benedict XVI to rationally review the Vatican's current stance on methods of contraception, i.e. celibacy. Surely now is the time for the suffering of millions to come before the ancient theology of the Roman Catholic Church.
Katie Lee, Linlithgow, Scotland

I am not a Catholic, but surely the whole point of a religion is to faithfully follow a particular set of beliefs. For a Catholic to go against those beliefs (for example on abortion or birth control) because they are antithetical to modern secular thought is not being liberal; it is being unfaithful. What matters is that those beliefs are not forced onto others, and that those who go against them are treated compassionately and with understanding. However, the beliefs should remain the same, otherwise you might as well give up on religion altogether.
Matthew Wentworth, London

Does anybody really think that Aids in Africa or anywhere else will be reduced if the Church reverses or softens its stance on artificial birth control? Infection continues, despite the ubiquitous "condomise" message. The Pope has a fairly small following in Africa, and his advice to abstain has so far been roundly ignored in many places. I doubt that there are many ears straining for his next word. People only listen to what they want to hear: clearly, neither abstinence nor condoms are it. Stop looking for scapegoats and go back to the drawing board.
Sean, Cape Town, South Africa

The election of Cardinal Ratzinger as pope will only benefit the Catholic flock if he is ready to change the view held on birth control and abortion. He must wake up and smell the coffee.
Onika James, Arima, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies

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