A wide range of reactions to Pope Benedict XVI

In Baltimore area, mixture of joy, hope, and disappointment

Liberals, conservatives differ

In The Community

Habemus Papam

The Election Of Pope Benedcit Xvi

April 20, 2005|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

When the Rev. Denis J. Sweeney heard the news, he tore down the halls of St. Mary's Catholic school in Annapolis, high-fiving students and encouraging them to shout, "Three cheers for the new pope."

But 30 miles away, at the Hyattsville headquarters of the pro-reform Catholics Speak Out, where the faithful were hoping for a sign of liberalization on issues such as birth control and the ordination of women, the reaction was less celebratory.

"It really saddens me," said Rea Howarth, the director of Catholics Speak Out. "It's an indication that they're intent on holding the hard line, and the church really is in trouble."

Across Maryland, the ascension of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - a zealously conservative cardinal who was a close ally of Pope John Paul II - to become Pope Benedict XVI prompted strong and conflicting reactions.

Those who were hoping for a pope from the Third World were disappointed in the selection of the German-born cleric, but German-Americans delighted in the hope that he would champion Germans the way Pope John Paul did Poles. Though reformers were disappointed, conservatives took solace that the church would avoid an abrupt shift to the left.

And many of the faithful were happy the process was over.

"This church has had 26 years with this pope, so this is a big day," said Sweeney, the pastor of St. Mary's. "It was nice that the decision came quickly."

Bishop W. Francis Malooly, vicar general and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, celebrated a Mass last night at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on North Charles Street and prayed for the new leader of Roman Catholics.

Malooly said he had met him previously, and, "I was very impressed with his warmth."

He read comments from Cardinal William H. Keeler, Baltimore's archbishop, who said he found Pope Benedict "to be understanding and supportive in many situations."

Fred Ruof, a liberal church activist in Baltimore and former priest, expressed concern that Pope Benedict's selection would signal "the suppression of theologic discussion on subjects like abortion, stem cell research and the ordination of women."

But, he said, "I owe it to him to listen, to see what he's going to think, say and do. My hope is that he will be a listener, but he's not shown that up to this point."

A hard-liner who strictly enforced Pope John Paul's policies, Ratzinger has been called ideologically rigid - even cold. But many who've met the new pope defended him yesterday, calling much of the criticism unfounded.

"One of the biggest things that will be a surprise is how jovial and how friendly he is," said the Rev. Matthew Buening, a priest at Immaculate Conception in Towson, who met Ratzinger on several occasions while studying in Rome. "He has a very pastoral and jovial nature."

Retired Baltimore Archbishop William D. Borders, who encountered Ratzinger about 15 years ago at a meeting in Rome, said characterizations of him are often exaggerated.

"The thing is that nobody can compare with Pope John Paul in personality, and I think it's unfair to compare them," Borders said. "Everybody has to be their own person."

"I don't see any real change in policy," said Borders, who appointed the first woman pastoral director to lead a church in the Baltimore Archdiocese. "At age 78, they were selecting someone very capable of planning the future of the church, but they'll be looking for someone younger the next go-around."

The Rev. Henry Kunkel, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Pylesville, agreed that Pope Benedict is unlikely to engineer vast reform: "I think he's going to be pretty much along the party line as far as orthodoxy - I don't think we're going to see women being ordained starting next week or priests getting married."

That's why liberal Catholics like Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Sister of Loretto and advocate for gay and lesbian rights, said they felt downcast yesterday with the news of the election.

"I was watching TV and I heard them say Joseph, and my heart went down to my shoes," Gramick said. "His policy for lesbians and gays has been pastorally insensitive."

Gramick, who had long been involved with ministry to gays and lesbians, was ordered by the Vatican in 1999 to end that ministry. The order came after an investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Ratzinger headed.

Gramick said she encountered him once during the investigation. "I met him on an airplane and by my personal dealing with him for 30 minutes on the plane, he is a very kind and holy man, but he is very rigid," she said.

The Rev. John J. Lombardi, chaplain of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmittsburg on the campus of Mount St. Mary's University, said he thinks Pope Benedict's personal history will be an asset to the job.

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