CHURCH leaders around the world have hailed Pope Benedict XVI as a standard bearer of Catholic values and a worthy successor to Pope John Paul II.
But while many statements extolled the Pope’s stance in defending and promoting Church doctrine, some African Church officials expressed concern that the new Pope may not accurately reflect the needs of southern Africa, where AIDS and abject poverty were devastating the region.
Bishop Louis Ndlovu of Manzini, Swaziland, the former president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, last met with Pope Benedict in February to arrange the visits of southern African bishops later this year.
He said it is unlikely that southern Africa will be high on the new Pope’s list of priorities.
Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, said Pope Benedict’s reputation as a hard-line traditionalist means “there will be little opportunity for openness of debate on issues, including the possible use of condoms as part of prevention strategies in the face of the AIDS pandemic”.
Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana’a Nzeki of Nairobi, Kenya, said he believed Pope Benedict would “continue to (be a) champion for the poor in society” and would work to fight “the raging poverty and suffering of Africans”.
In Nigeria, where many believed Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze was a top papal candidate, Church officials said the election of Pope Benedict showed that the Holy Spirit was working through the cardinals in the conclave.
“His election was not influenced by any parochial considerations, although, it would have pleased most Catholics in Nigeria if Cardinal Francis Arinze had emerged as the new pope,” said Archbishop Anthony Obinna of Owerri.
Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja said, “Pope Benedict XVI has been there with the late pope, and he will toe the same line on the issues of female ordination, gay priests and the use of contraception.
Bishop Luis Stockler of Quilmes, Argentina, who studied with the cardinal in Germany in the 1950s, characterised the new Pope as “a man of God, intelligent and very humble’, according to the Buenos Aires daily La Nacion.
Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto, Canada said that in electing Pope Benedict the cardinals were motivated by a desire to continue the work of Pope John Paul.
Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, Scotland, called Pope Benedict “a very humble, personable man, quite different from the hard-line ‘enforcer’ image which is often portrayed of him”.
Maronite Bishop Bechara Rai of Jbail, Lebanon, said: ‘He is of the same thinking as John Paul II, especially for the traditional vision of the Church and theology. I think his appointment is providential because the Church needs to be in a period of calm.’