- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2005

ROME — Less than 24 hours after the election of Pope Benedict XVI, American cardinals defended their selection of a pontiff whose public persona is that of an unbending enforcer of church doctrine.

The less-than-complimentary portraits of the new pope are unfair, the cardinals said yesterday during a press conference at the Pontifical North American College just outside the walls of the Vatican.

“Look at this Holy Father,” Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick said. “Don’t make judgments on what you read in the papers.”

The new pope “is maybe a more serious person [than Pope John Paul II], maybe a little shy, a person who has given his life to scholarship in a special way,” he added.

Before being selected as the 265th pope, Benedict served as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he issued no-nonsense summations on many topics. He called rock music a “vehicle of anti-religion,” termed other Christian denominations “deficient” and referred to Muslim Turkey’s attempts to join the European Union as “an enormous mistake.”

But Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney said the new pope had been mischaracterized.

“We have to be careful about caricaturizing the Holy Father and putting labels on this man of the church,” he said.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago called Benedict “a humble genius” and “a true Christian.” He said the public should concentrate on “this aspect of the picture of who this man is.”

New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan also lavished praise on Benedict.

“I suggest you start reading all his books,” he said. “I hope you come to know him as extraordinarily intelligent, calm and secure in his faith and a wonderful human being.”

The American cardinals said they know the new pope as a top-notch theologian and a man willing to listen to all points of view.

“The vision some have of the Holy Father of someone not in dialogue is a skewed vision,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “It’s not fair.”

He said he worked with Benedict on what American bishops’ policies should be on pro-choice Catholic politicians, and “almost every time I’ve gone to see [Benedict], he’s had a number of people there [in his office]. There’s always been a round-robin discussion.”

The new pope “is a man who consults, a man who reads up on things, a man who does his homework,” Cardinal McCarrick added.

Although the 115 cardinals vowed to not reveal the inner workings of their brief conclave in the Sistine Chapel, Cardinal McCarrick did describe his amazement at seeing a fellow cardinal transformed into, under Catholic doctrine, an infallible pope.

“You’re in a group of 115 people and you’re saying ‘your eminence this’ and ‘your eminence that,’ and suddenly he’s the Holy Father,” he said.

When the new pope’s name was announced, the other cardinals all stood and clapped, Cardinal McCarrick added.

“Here we were, 115 people, with all this extraordinary grace, with all this extraordinary angst, able to listen to the Holy Spirit,” he said. “We applauded for [the new pope] and for the Holy Spirit.”

After Benedict assented to the election and revealed his new papal title, each of the other cardinals knelt before him and pledged his loyalty. As he approached Benedict, Cardinal McCarrick said, he remembered reading a book written by the new leader of the Catholic Church, “The Secrets of Our Joy.”

“I told him, ‘Holy Father, I pray we’ll always be the servants of your joy so we’ll bring joy to your life by our fidelity,’” Cardinal McCarrick said.

“I was not surprised when the Holy Spirit told us to choose Cardinal Ratzinger,” he said. “During the Second Vatican Council, he was one of the great theologians of the council. For 25 years, he’s served as the theologian of the church.”

“We all know him. … How would you not think of Cardinal Ratzinger as someone who should be pope?”

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