Pope Benedict XVI: The New Shepherd

It's hard to follow a superstar; will the new Pope with the fierce reputation be able to take up where John Paul II left off?

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He is, however, also known to embrace a Benedictine motto, Succisa virescit (Pruned, it grows again), which has led some people to wonder how sharp are his shears, how deep might he cut. He has raised the prospect of shrinking the church back to its true believers and rejecting in firm sorrow all those who call themselves Catholic without accepting the obligations of the faith. And what exactly might that mean for the Pope's often restless American flock? Paul Wilkes, 66, a liberal Catholic author who has wrestled with the challenge of progressivism in the church, said Ratzinger's election "makes it more difficult for Joe and Mary Catholic--who are trying to raise their kids Catholic, but they use [birth] control, have friends who are divorced or are divorced themselves, know people who have had abortions--this is very, very distressing for them. It just indicates that the church still has not heard these people." While the church has taught doctrine for centuries, Wilkes noted, "it has also taught that the free exercise of human conscience is the ultimate arbiter of our Catholic lives." But that's not in Ratzinger's lexicon. "This 'my-way-or-the-highway, let-them-become-Episcopalians' attitude is harmful to a Catholic Church that is supposed to be a wide, sprawling tent," said Wilkes.

Conservatives rather enjoyed the discomfort of liberals, seeing it as confirmation of the wisdom of the choice and the ignorance that finds it surprising that a deeply conservative institution actually picked a deeply conservative man to lead it. "These reformisti inhabit a world of their own," said Father Joseph Fessio, head of Ignatius Press in San Francisco. "They waited for years for John Paul to die and maybe install one of their own, and then he finally died, and who do they get? John Paul in spades!" Such supporters reject the idea that the new Pope was some kind of enemy of freedom or modernity. "Pope Benedict XVI does not have a dour, gloomy view of the future," argues Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things, an interfaith journal. "He has the tranquil confidence which is faith. Homosexuality, abortion, women priests--forget it. Those are only distractions." Indeed Pope Benedict had already moved on: greeting and hugging kids outside the Vatican, writing his very first letter to the chief rabbi in Rome, and wooing the press with the implicit promise that he too would be a great story. --Reported by Jordan Bonfante, Jeff Israely and Marguerite Michaels/Rome and Tim Padgett/Miami

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