Region's bishops expect agenda similar to John Paul II's

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

It's unlikely that the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope will bring about any immediate changes in the area's Catholic churches. Most priests in the region believe that Pope Benedict XVI is likely to carry on the traditions of his predecessor, John Paul II, who died April 2.

Word that a new pope had been chosen came just around noon Tuesday in Southeast Missouri. The announcement, which came on the second day of the cardinals' conclave, was much faster than had been expected.

Bishop John J. Leibrecht of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese thinks the election was quick because the cardinals were looking for someone who would carry on the work of John Paul II and make a seamless transition for the church.

He said Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II were friends. "They were confidants and that's why the cardinals elected him. It's a continuation of what John Paul II was doing, but in a year or two the new Holy Father might have his own programs and agenda."

Leibrecht doesn't expect a visible impact on the area's Catholic parishes, short of the fact that now people have a named pope to offer prayers for during Mass.

The Rev. J. Friedel of Catholic Campus Ministries at Southeast Missouri State University said the beauty of the office of pope is that it is transitional. "A pope is not pope forever. He's filling the shoes as successor to Peter. He's a servant among the servants of God."

It will take some time for the pope to make appointments and fill positions in the Vatican's curia, but what people here will see are subtle changes, Friedel said. Those changes will come in the encyclicals and writings from the pope and in his addresses to audiences at St. Peter's Basilica.

Although a new pope can send bishops or priests to new dioceses or assignments, Leibrecht doesn't expect that to happen here.

Most of the students who stopped at the university's Newman Center Tuesday were neither upset nor overjoyed about the election. Most were rather curious since it's not a practice they've seen in their lifetime, Friedel said.

The Rev. Tom Kiefer thinks the papal election is opening doors for the church. "It's a good time in the church. It's been a learning experience because history is happening right now," he said.

Kiefer was celebrating Mass with students at St. Mary Cathedral School shortly after the announcement came. Students wanted to know how the election takes place and how the pope chooses his name.

Speculation is that Benedict XVI was chosen in reference to Pope Benedict XV, who served during the time of World War I and was seen as a moderate. Ratzinger, by comparison, is known as a hard-liner. His previous Vatican post was a overseer of church orthodoxy.

But Leibrecht, who has spoken several times with Ratzinger during visits to Rome, said that stereotype gives a false impression. "I've met him several times and you couldn't meet a gentler, warmer person and you feel at ease with him immediately."

Some papal experts had hoped the conclave would elect a Latin American pontiff or someone from Africa or Asia. Leibrecht said he's sure that an African or Asian cardinal received votes during the first rounds of ballots. He knows the day is coming when the cardinals will choose a pope from Latin America or a Third World nation. "It just didn't happen this time."

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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