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New Pope Known for His Defense of Catholic Orthodoxy


White smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel's chimney and bells pealed signaling the conclave had chosen a new pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany. The long-time guardian of church doctrine will be known as Pope Benedict XVI.

There's an old Vatican saying that: He, who goes into the conclave a pope, comes out a cardinal. But the conclave to choose a successor to John Paul II has proven that saying wrong.

On Tuesday evening just before six o'clock local time, the Vatican announced that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was elected the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez of Chile, the senior cardinal deacon, made the announcement to the crowd in St. Peter's Square. "Sanctae Romanae Ecclessiae Cardinale Ratzinger."

He told the cheering crowd that Cardinal Ratzinger will be known as Pope Benedict XVI.

The new pope was a long-time friend of John Paul the Second and it was he who was the main celebrant of the funeral mass for the late pope.

Father Thomas Reese, editor of America, a Catholic weekly, says even before his election, Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the most important men in the Vatican. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was responsible for promoting and safeguarding church doctrine on faith and morals throughout the Catholic world. Father Reese says this position made him well known among church leaders.

"Cardinal Ratzinger, of course, is extremely highly respected by the cardinals,” he explained. “He's an extremely bright man, and he has an extremely powerful position in the papacy of John Paul II as head of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith. He is a very good theologian."

Joseph Ratzinger was born in 1927 in a small town in southern Germany. His father was a policeman with strong anti-Nazi beliefs, but membership in the Hitler Youth Movement was compulsory at the time and in 1941 the young Joseph Ratzinger was enrolled against his will. He said he was soon let out, because of his studies for the priesthood.

The future pope's studies at the seminary were interrupted again when he was drafted into the Nazi Army and served with an anti-aircraft unit, and later on the Austrian-Hungarian border. He deserted the Nazi Army in 1945 and returned to Bavaria, where he was captured by U.S. forces and held in a prisoner of war camp for several weeks.

After the war he resumed his seminary studies and was ordained a priest in 1951. In 1977 he was ordained archbishop of Munich and less than a month later Pope Paul VI elevated him to cardinal.

In addition to his native German, the new pope speaks 10 languages, including Italian, which he spoke when he briefly addressed the crowd gathered in Saint Peter's Square.

He said after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me - a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.

Pope Benedict, who turned 78 on Saturday, becomes the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and the first German pope since the 11th century.

Like his predecessor, Pope Benedict has defended the Church's orthodoxy. In the 24 years he led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he silenced dissident theologians and reiterated church teaching against female priests and married male priests. He is strongly opposed to abortion, euthanasia and contraception. The deeply conservative prelate has alienated many liberal Roman Catholics in Europe and the United States.

The new pope will hold his official installation Mass this Sunday.

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