While it’s too early to know how the new pope will lead the Roman Catholic Church, the name Joseph Ratzinger chose, Benedict XVI, might cast some light on the goals of the new pontiff.
Monsignor Michael Flanagan of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish said the new pope might have chosen his name because of an appreciation for Pope Benedict XV.
“He (Benedict XV) was notable for the fact that he wanted to bring reconciliation and peace, particularly with the First World War,” Flanagan said. “Benedict XVI probably has some ideas that the world needs to be reconciled and hopes to achieve that in some way.”
The Rev. Edwin Cole of Sacred Heart Church agrees.
“This new pope is a very intelligent theologian,” Cole said. “And my sense is that he’s making a bridge with this choice of name with the past Pope Benedict XV.”
Pope Benedict XVI may also be trying to identify with St. Benedict, who founded Western monasticism.
According to church ritual, it is not mandatory for the pope to change his name. It was first done by Pope John II in 533 and became a tradition in 1009. Popes often choose the name of a favorite past pope or saint.
Pope John Paul I made history by choosing the names of the two favored popes who preceded him. Pope John Paul II chose to take the name of his immediate predecessor in respect for the man’s brief 33-day reign.
Columbia religious leaders think that Benedict XVI’s close relationship with the late Pope John Paul II may provide a better indication of the church’s future.
“I don’t think there will be any significant difference in leadership because he has been very close to John Paul II, and during the illness he was running things quite a bit,” Flanagan said. “He will leave things pretty well as they are, and that was probably some of the thinking behind the election.”
Angela Beaver,a parishioner at the Newman Center at MU, said she is glad someone close to John Paul II is the new pope.
“He’s still got the same spirit and probably learned so much from John Paul,” Beaver said.
Though pleased with the newly elected pope, Patrick Darcy, principal of Columbia Catholic School, thinks that the church will remain rigid on issues such as celibacy of priests and the role of women in the church.
Ultimately, he said, Rome doesn’t understand the Catholic Church in America.
“I think they only hear one side, and more of the conservative side,” he said. “I don’t think they understood the breadth and the depth of the abuse problem that we experienced here.”
Darcy said Catholics should love and respect Pope Benedict because he is the Holy Father, but there should also be room for a loyal opposition.
Campus minister Christy Hicks thinks it’s naive to expect Pope Benedict XVI to push forth the progressive agenda favored by many American Catholics.
“The job of the pope is to be the most conservative in the church because they also have to pass down the tradition of the church,” Hicks said. “The church is very frustrating to modern media and to modernization because we don’t just change overnight.
“Any major change in the church will take years to get implemented,” she said.
Hicks hopes this pope will also revitalize the spirituality of Europe. Pope John Paul II said the European and American churches are starving spiritually, Hicks said.
“We are now having to face the reality that Europe is now missionary territory,” she said.
Hugh Macken, a 30-year-old salesman who used to co-host a Catholic radio show in Connecticut, said that Pope Benedict XVI seems like a very intelligent, spiritually disciplined person, but Macken has one reservation.
“I’d like to see him smile more, frankly,” Macken said.
While Pope Benedict XVI may not have the charisma of Pope John Paul II, he could work to bring about rigorous internal reform, Macken said.
“I see this current pope as someone who will look less outside of the world and more inside the church,” Macken said.”
Liz Mitchell of the Missourian contributed to this report.