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CURRENT ISSUE:  April 25, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 8Oakland, CA

The new pope is remembered as
warm, gracious, a good listener

Notre Dame Sister Pat McGlinn and journalist Dan Morris-Young met Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1999 at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park when he came to the Bay Area for a bishops’ conference. Father Gerald Brown, as Sulpician provincial, consulted with him in Rome several times during the 1990’s.

The three agree that the new Pope Benedict XVI is a warm, engaging, and personable man. He also “listens hard,” recalled Morris-Young, former editor of both The Catholic Voice and Catholic San Francisco newspapers.

Father Brown, now president and rector of St. Patrick’s Seminary, said Cardinal Ratzinger “welcomed my ideas and was very helpful. The smile you saw on TV (after his election as pope) is characteristic.”

Sister McGlinn, a professor of social science at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, says she is still impressed by how quickly Cardinal Ratzinger was able to engage individuals in conversation that day six years ago. Although she admits being concerned about his theology, “I don’t doubt his humanity.”

She told The Voice about her brief encounter with him during a picture taking session at the seminary. “The cardinal was standing on a dais about six inches off the floor. When it came my turn to move up there with him, Archbishop Levada (San Francisco’s prelate) accidentally stepped on my foot. He was all apologies. When I told him ‘not to worry, it’ll grow back,’ both men burst into laughter.”

By the time the photographer had taken their picture together, the cardinal had found out that both he and Sister McGlinn are opera buffs, and that they share a liking for Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal.” She also learned that he is an accomplished pianist. Her conclusion: “This is a man of culture.”

But culture and personal style are only two facets in the job description of a pope. His theological worldview is of paramount consideration.

For example, how the new pope’s former assignment as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith might impact the direction of his papacy was a common topic among those commenting during the first hours after the papal election.

Sulpician Father Hy Nguyen, an Oakland priest studying in Rome, said Cardinal Ratzinger “had to be tough in that role,” but, the priest believes, as Benedict XVI he will “ultimately bring the Church back together.”

Morris-Young said he is uncertain “how much of his conservatism is hype, but I hope his perceived intrangency is mitigated.”

“The change of jobs is important,” observed Dominican Father Michael Sweeney, president of the Dominican School of Theology in Berkeley. Now that the cardinal is no longer administer of the congregation charged with maintaining orthodoxy, “he just might be a good deal freer, since dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s can now be someone else’s worries.”

Father Sweeney predicts that the new pope “just might surprise us.”

As proof, he pointed to a little known essay Cardinal Ratzinger wrote for an anthology on dogmatic theology during the 1990’s in which he expressed his hopes that someday there would be a Vatican Office on the Laity.

The Dominican added that Benedict XVI has also expressed his belief that “the diocese exists in and through parishes” and not exclusively at a centralized level.

“That calls for a lot of unpacking,” said the priest, who praised the new pope as “a creative thinker.” As for Benedict XVI’s influence on theology schools, the priest predicted that he “will give us resource materials rather than theology.” He also said he believes Pope Benedict XVI will be a reconciler.

Father Paul Schmidt, former administrator at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Oakland currently on sabbatical in Rome, agrees that a caricature of Benedict XVI is “not appropriate. It is very different being in the driver’s seat than it is being a lieutenant,” he said, referring to the cardinal’s close working association with John Paul II during the past 24 years.

As concern and interest in the future of this new papacy begins playing itself out, there is a recognition that “the Spirit breathes in unusual ways,” said Franciscan Father Mario Di Cicco, president of the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley.

Father DiCicco said he hopes Benedict XVI will “emphasize life in all its components, and not just the fetus.

“I hope he will condemn violent leaders and dictators all over the world, and will not just speak, but act as well. I hope he will show compassion, inclusivity, and take an unjudgemental stance on all the issues. You can attract more people with compassion and love than wielding woes and sanctions,” he said.

Father Georg Ratzinger, the 81-year-old brother of newly elected Pope Benedict XVI, poses with a regional newspaper at his home in Regensburg, Germany, April 20. The priest told ARD TV he was surprised by the choice. "I was shocked. I'd thought that his age and not very stable health were a reason for the cardinals to choose someone else.”


A woman lights a candle decorated with a picture of Pope Benedict XVI in the Bavarian town of Altoetting, April 20.
Dominic Ebenbichler


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