Hard-liner Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected the leader of the world's one billion Roman Catholics after the conclave of 115 Cardinals ended Tuesday evening. Minutes after 6.p.m local time, white smoke wafted from the Sistine Chapel into the gray skies above the Vatican, signaling the election of the Roman Catholic Church's 265th pope, and drawing thousands of people out of offices and onto the streets of Rome. A cacophony of bells and flag-waving crowds rapidly filled St. Peter's Square to hear the official announcement of the church's new leader. Many chanted, "Viva il Papa!" or "Long live the pope!"
A heavy police presence was also on hand, as rain began to fall on the crowd. The people erupted in cheers when German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 78, was named the new pope, taking as his name Benedict XVI. "The cardinals elected me, the simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the lord," Ratzinger told the crowd. "I trust in your prayers." After extended cheers, the new pope offered a blessing in Latin. The crowd erupted once again as Vatican musicians played.
In the past week, Ratzinger, had been widely characterized as the front-runner for the job. A close ally of Pope John Paul II, Ratziner was the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the dean of the College of Cardinals.
Ratzinger's selection will be disappointing to those who had hoped for a liberal successor to John Paul II. On Monday, Ratzinger used his homily at the Mass dedicated to electing the next pope to warn the faithful about tendencies that he considered dangers to the faith: sects, ideologies like Marxism, liberalism, atheism, agnosticism and relativism--the ideology that there are no absolute truths.
"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism," he said, speaking in Italian. "We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires."
Ratzinger was born in Germany on April 16, 1927, which was Holy Saturday that year, and baptized at the Easter Vigil services. His seminary training was interrupted by World War II, when he was inducted into the German army, deserted, and was briefly interned in an American POW camp.
Ordained to the priesthood in 1951, he earned a doctorate in theology at the University of Munich, and became a theology professor first at the University of Bonn, then the University of Tubingen (where he was a colleague of Hans Kung), and finally at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria. By the mid-1960s he had established himself as one of the world's leading Catholic theologians. He attended all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, as a peritus, or theological adviser, working for Cologne's Cardinal Josef Frings.
In 1977 he was named Archbishop of Munich, and elevated to the College of Cardinals later that year by Pope Paul VI. In 1981 he was called to Rome by Pope John Paul II, who asked him to serve as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--the top theological post at the Holy See.