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To the media, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Having just discovered the depth of emotion that a beloved Pope can evoke, many pundits were amazed that the Cardinals could resist offering up another "rock star." If John Paul II was idealized in his final days, Benedict faced an impossible contrast. Even his name--the old one, Ratzinger--sounded to many like some mutant hornet, and his past did not have the heroic arc of his predecessor's. The Sun of London headlined his bio, FROM HITLER YOUTH TO PAPA RATZI. His Vatican office, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the newspapers noted, used to be called the Inquisition; he was dubbed God's Rottweiler. The Panzer Cardinal. And so forth. Where was the pastoral tenderness, the charisma, the charm? To read the reviews, it was as though Benedict XVI had done the one unforgivable thing--he was not John Paul 3.0.
So while there were certainly many faithful fans ready to welcome the anointed successor--there was so much demand for Benedict XVI souvenir T shirts and beer mugs that ratzingerfanclub.com crashed--the wider ripple of reaction, especially across the rutted spiritual expanse of Western Europe and the U.S., was more complicated. Would he welcome intellectual challenge and inquiry or banish critics and crush dissent? How can he declare other religions deficient but then be open-minded and eager to reach out to other faiths? ANTI-TURKISH POPE, said the headline of the Cumhuriyet newspaper in Istanbul, where many recalled Ratzinger's opposition to Turkey's joining the European Union on the grounds that a country of 68 million Muslims would dilute Western Europe's Christian heritage.
Some found reassurance in his first papal homily, with its moist themes of inclusion, collegiality, continuity and hope. "I address everyone with simplicity and affection," he said, "to assure them that the church wants to continue to build an open and sincere dialogue with them, in a search for the true good of mankind and of society." Longtime colleagues defended the power of his intellect: this was a man who could improvise jokes in Latin, a walking theological encyclopedia. They rejected the image of a cold and ruthless oppressor. "He is gentle in his personal dealings," says Father Peter Gumpel, a Vatican-based German priest who has known Ratzinger since the early '60s. "If you talk about an inquisitor, that's a stern man. And that's not the case. He is firm on principles. But he listens, listens to everybody."