FOR those who thought the new Pope would be a divisive and polarising figure because of his championship of traditional doctrine, his first public Mass should have calmed fears.
It had an ecumenical message, to the effect that he would work for dialogue both within and outside the Church.
He also paid tribute to Benedict XV, pontiff from 1914-22, who had been a pacifist advocate during the Great War. Ratzinger chose to follow in his footsteps as Benedict XVI.
The trend of appointing non-Italian popes that started with John Paul II continues.
John Paul II’s ministry was conservative and the cardinals appear determined to continue that trend.
But while John Paul II had charisma and people skills in plenty the new Pope, who started out as a theology professor, may be closer to doctrine than communicating with the flock.
Ratzinger was a liberal in the early part of his career, but his outlook changed during the sixties.
Given the atheism and materialism of the student movement that swept over Europe during the period, he may have felt that any accommodation with liberal trends would amount to undermining the basics of Catholic doctrine. Hence dissidence has to be delineated sharply from orthodoxy. Ratzinger denounces what he calls the ‘dictatorship of relativism’.
The counter-argument is that when godless modern trends are on the ascendant anyway, there may be little point emphasising differences between Catholicism and other forms of Christianity, or between orthodox doctrine and liberation theology.
“Besides, it looks inhuman to be against contraception and condoms in the era of overpopulation and AIDS.
It appears, from his first Mass and his choice of name for himself, that the new Pope is aware of this, and may fashion his papacy accordingly.
The election of non-Italian popes presiding over the Vatican points to globalisation of the papacy.
Perhaps in future the focus will shift from Europe to Latin America and Asia.
Europe is the least religious continent on earth, while in Latin America and Africa, for example, the faith is vibrant.
Half of Latin America is Catholic and more fervently so than Europeans.
But Ratzinger is intellectually capable enough to be alive to these dilemmas. No doubt he will chart his own course as Pope Benedict XVI.