- WND - http://www.wnd.com -

Joseph Ratzinger
succeeds John Paul

Pope Benedict XVI

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 78, is the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

He will take the name Pope Benedict XVI.

Ratzinger, the Vatican’s chief overseer of doctrine since 1981 and a close aide to Pope John Paul II, becomes the first German pope since the 11th century. He is the oldest cardinal to be named pope since Clement XII, also 78 when elected in 1730.

The name Benedict comes from the Latin word for “blessing.”

Moments before Ratzinger appeared on the main balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez of Chile told the crowd: “I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope.”

After emerging on the balcony, Ratzinger said in Italian to the crowd below, “after our great Pope, John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in God’s vineyard.

“I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and how to act, even with insufficient tools, and I especially trust in your prayers.

“In the joy of the resurrected Lord, trustful of his permanent help, we go ahead, sure that God will help. And Mary, his most beloved Mother, stands on our side. Thank you.”

Ratzinger will hold his inaugural Mass Sunday, formally marking the beginning of his papacy.

White smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel chimney in Rome this afternoon, signaling the selection.

The 115 scarlet-robed cardinals inside failed earlier this morning in two ballots to elect a successor to John Paul II, who died April 2 at age 84.

The thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square greeted the white smoke with clapping and flag waving, but there was confusion until the symbolic ringing of bells confirmed the 265th pope had been selected, prompting a roar of jubilation.

The crowd chanted: “Viva il Papa!” or “Long live the pope!”

The smoke began rising at 11:49 a.m. Eastern Time, followed by the bells at 12:04 p.m.

The conclave began yesterday. The election of John Paul II in October 1978 took eight ballots over three days.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger introduced as the 265th pope (Photo: Vatican)

Prior to the conclave, Ratzinger warned the cardinals, bishops and others gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica for a Mass that the church must stay true to itself, the Associated Press reported.

“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” he said.

“Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism,” he said, making clear he disagrees with that view.

Ratzinger has argued that doctrine must endure independent of cultural changes and social trends, prompting critics to denounces his “papal fundamentalism.”

Ratzinger, considered one of the church’s top theologians, was John Paul II’s chief theological adviser ? the prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith ? and dean of the College of Cardinals since November 2002.

As the archbishop of Munich, he was elevated to cardinal by Pope Paul VI in June 1977.

Born in Marktl am Inn, Germany, April 16, 1927, he was reared in Bavaria during the Nazis’ rise to power.

Ratzinger said in his memoirs he was enrolled in the Hitler Youth against his will at the age of 14. Membership was required for all German young people, but he was released because of his studies for the priesthood.

In his 1997 book “Salt of the Earth,” he said, “when the compulsory Hitler Youth was introduced in 1941, my brother was obliged to join. I was still too young, but later as a seminarian, I was registered in the Hitler Youth. As soon as I was out of the seminary, I never went back. And that was difficult because the tuition reduction, which I really needed, was tied to proof of attendance at the Hitler Youth.

“Thank goodness there was a very understanding mathematics professor. He himself was a Nazi, but an honest man, and said to me, ‘Just go once to get the document so we have it…’ When he saw that I simply didn’t want to, he said, ‘I understand, I’ll take care of it’ and so I was able to stay free of it.”

Ratzinger was conscripted into the German Army, but he deserted during World War II and was sent to a POW camp when the Allies entered his hometown.