The news that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pontiff stirred strong feelings among local Catholics, ranging from unabashed joy to "big consternation," as one cleric put it.
"As a bishop of the church, I rejoice with people everywhere and give thanks to God for the outcome of the conclave," Bishop Leonard Blair, leader of the 307,000 Catholics in the Toledo diocese, said in a news conference yesterday afternoon at the Catholic Center.
The bishop, who spent 13 years in Rome, said he watched "with tremendous anticipation" in his Toledo office yesterday as the announcement was made, adding that "I had no idea who it might be."
He called Cardinal Ratzinger, who chose the papal name of Benedict XVI, "a man of great theological and spiritual depth, known to many by his writings, a man well-prepared for the responsibilities of his papacy, someone who is acquainted with the situation of the church throughout the world."
The Rev. Adam Hertzfeld of Findlay's St. Michael the Archangel Parish was among those elated by the announcement. The priest, who studied in Rome for four years and will return there for more studies in the near future, said he has read much of Cardinal Ratzinger's writings, and "I like very much what he has to say. I think he has a great grasp on the human condition."
Some Toledo Catholics, however, had been hoping for a Pontiff not so closely aligned with the conservative Pope John Paul II.
"There is big consternation," said the Rev. James Bacik, pastor of Toledo's Corpus Christi University Parish. "I've been getting calls from progressive Catholics who are out of sorts and telling me they may become Lutheran or something."
Father Bacik, an Oxford University-educated theologian, said his primary concern has been "the power of the Vatican in relation to national hierarchies."
While Cardinal Ratzinger has been a strong proponent of the centralization of Vatican power, Father Bacik is optimistic that Pope Benedict XVI may yield more authority to local bodies because of a statement last year.
In April, 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger said after a funeral in Paris that "we may have to be more generous in some areas and that central authority has interfered too much. ... I have no problem considering where we could have less centralism and more decentralization."
Richard Gaillardetz, professor of Catholic studies at the University of Toledo, said the quick election of Cardinal Ratzinger "emphasizes continuity" from Pope John Paul II's 26-year reign.
"It will be a vigorous continuity. It's not fair to call him a 'caretaker pope' who will just keep the ship going" Mr. Gaillardetz said. "I think he will be vigorously active, particularly in his teaching ministry."
But at 78, it's likely that Pope Benedict XVI will not serve much longer than a decade and will provide a "buffer papacy," Mr. Gaillardetz said, enabling the cardinals to make a "bolder move" in the next conclave.
He said Cardinal Ratzinger's choice of a papal name was intriguing because Pope Benedict XV, who served from 1914 to 1922, was a peacemaker and a moderator who followed Pope Pius X's "aggressive campaign to purge the church of modernism."
And Saint Benedict of Nursia, founder of western monasticism, had "a very pessimistic view of the outside world," seeking to preserve the church through separation from worldly influences. In his homily Monday before the start of the conclave, Cardinal Ratzinger made similar comments about the church's fight against modernism, Mr. Gaillardetz said.
Rabbi Alan Sokobin, rabbi emeritus of the Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim, said he was not concerned that Cardinal Ratzinger was involved, by compulsion, in a Nazi youth organization during his childhood in Germany, or that he was drafted into the German Army during World War II.
"Young Germans, clouded or confused by the propaganda of their society, did not realize they were fighting on the part of an immoral Nazi party and government," Rabbi Sokobin said. "He grew up in a state in which they had to march to the same drummer, to adhere to the fundamental secular state religion. But he reached beyond that, he reached a religious expression that is universal. We all leave our youth behind."
Last night, thoughts about the new Pontiff were on the minds of the several hundred people who attended a lecture at Corpus Christi Parish.
"I have mixed feelings," said Paul Sullivan, Sr., a Corpus Christi parishioner. "I lean toward the liberal-progressive side of the church, and I don't think he's going to be too progressive. I would have liked to see a South American cardinal elected. But I know Cardinal Ratzinger is a bright guy. He's very intelligent."
A few observers declined to offer predictions about the direction of the new papacy.
"Wait and see, wait and see," said the Rev. Jim Auth, pastor of Regina Coeli Parish in West Toledo.
Although Cardinal Ratzinger has been closely aligned with Pope John Paul II's conservative theology, Father Auth said things might be different now that he is the Pontiff.
"A drastic change would be a surprise," he said, "but in 2,000 years, there have been a lot of surprises."
The Rev. James Kubajak, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Church in Oregon, said that as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was Cardinal Ratzinger's duty to uphold Pope John Paul II's conservative interpretation of Scripture and doctrine.
"If you sell Cadillacs, you're not going to tell a friend to buy a Ford. He was put there for a reason," Father Kubajak said. "I think he's going to surprise some cardinals. Popes are like Supreme Court justices - you don't know what you've got until it's too late."
Contact David Yonke at: