The newly appointed pope, known for his conservative views on the church, may be disappointing to many U.S. Catholics hoping for a more liberal successor, but Benedict XVI may take a less hard-line stance than expected, according to Glenn Rymsza, a Catholic campus minister at Portland State.
One thing that Catholics on both sides of the ideological fence can agree on, however, is that living up to the previous pontiff’s legacy is a tough job for anyone.
“It’s hard to fill John Paul II’s shoes,” said Rymsza, who works in the Campus Christian Ministry on S.W. Broadway.
Joseph Ratzinger, elected pope by the 115 cardinals Tuesday after a two-day conclave in the Sistine Chapel, faces leading a church rife with debate over issues ranging from homosexuality to abortion, growing secularism and ordaining women priests.
Polls indicate that many U.S. Catholics support policies such as allowing women to become ordained priests – policies that the new pope, known for towing a conservative line, may be unlikely to support.
While the Vatican may seem out of step with U.S. and European Catholics, many progressive views in the church are not shared as commonly in places like Africa and Latin America, according to Rymsza.
“A lot of the issues we debate here in the U.S. are not debated as heavily elsewhere,” he said.
Still, Pope Benedict XVI may be less of a conservative hardliner than people expect, Rymsza says, as the role bears different responsibilities than those of a cardinal.
“We’ll have to see how he handles these things from here out,” Rymsza said. “I don’t think he’s as ultra-conservative as people make him out to be.”
As head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger was responsible for preserving the traditional views of the Catholic faith, a job that may have lent itself to towing a conservative line. But the role the papacy may require Ratzinger to reach out to those with a more progressive viewpoint, Rymsza says.
Despite the new pope’s conservative views and sadness over the loss of John Paul II, it’s an exciting time of change within the church, and many Catholics look forward to seeing what changes Benedict XVI’s reign will bring.
“Any time there’s a change of leadership it’s an exciting event,” Rymsza said. “We all like leaders who we can look to for guidance and support.”