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Thursday, April 14, 2005

No-Nonsense Cardinal Ratzinger Leads Papal Candidates

Pope's Hard-nosed Enforcer in Lead

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is being talked about as a likely successor to Pope John Paul II.

ALLIES OF THE German cardinal who ordered the other "red hats" to clam up about who might succeed Pope John Paul II are actively campaigning to make him the next pontiff.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is now the man to beat, according to influential Italian newspapers like Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, which reported yesterday that he already has the backing of 50 cardinals when the conclave meets Monday to pick a new Pope.

Local Italian TV picked up the story and reported that Ratzinger appeared to be the "likely successor."

"His surrogates seem to have taken over the news cycle," said Vatican expert Rocco Palmo. "They've created a widespread buzz around Rome that Ratzinger is the anointed front-runner to succeed John Paul."

But the campaign for Ratzinger, who turns 78 Saturday, could backfire.

"The cardinals guard their independence jealously," Palmo said. "They don't like to be told who to vote for."

Ratzinger needs 77 cardinals in his corner to win the papacy. But outside of Rome, he's not a popular figure. In part, it's because Ratzinger was John Paul's enforcer.

It was Ratzinger whom the late Pope relied on to silence dissident theologians, censure wayward clergy and make sure priests towed the conservative Catholic line.

It was Ratzinger who became a lightning rod among liberal Catholics for laying down the law against women priests, gay marriage, abortion and birth control.

"It was a good-cop, bad-cop kind of thing," said Palmo. "His job was to be the doctrinal policeman. He was doing the job he was sent to do and he did it well."

So well that it earned Ratzinger the nickname, "Panzerkardinal."

Ratzinger is even more conservative than John Paul. And his out-of-the-blue denunciations of the Beatles in 1996 - a quarter century after they split up - and insistence that the rock band AC/DC's name meant "anti-Christ, death to Christ" cemented the impression among many young Catholics that Ratzinger was out-of-touch.

The son of a Bavarian policeman who quietly opposed the Nazis, Ratzinger was forced to join the Hitler Youth when he was 14 and later drafted into the German Army. He deserted in 1945 and was briefly held prisoner by the U.S. Army.

His brother, Georg, told a German newspaper this month that Ratzinger's nationality - not his conservative Catholicism - will doom his bid to become Pope.

"I cannot imagine that a German would be elected Pope," Georg Ratzinger told the Abendzeitung newspaper.

CHARLES W. BELL in Vatican City and CORKY SIEMASZKO in New York
Originally published on April 14, 2005


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