Formidable intellect who will not bend to modernist principles

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The Independent Online

By choosing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new pope, the cardinals in the Catholic Church were opting for down-the-line continuity in the harsh doctrine and philosophy for which the Church has become known and against all dissent by Catholics.

By choosing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new pope, the cardinals in the Catholic Church were opting for down-the-line continuity in the harsh doctrine and philosophy for which the Church has become known and against all dissent by Catholics.

They were also electing a pope who is prepared to openly meddle in high politics. Last year he went public in advising the European Union against bringing Turkey into the EU and then wrote a letter to bishops around the world justifying that controversial stand on the basis that the European continent was fundamentally Christian.

And it was Ratzinger who issued the Church's forceful broadside to Catholic politicians that there could be no compromise on the issues of marriage, abortion and euthanasia.

He advised US bishops to refuse Communion to politicians who support abortion rights, in what was seen as an direct attack on the Democratic presidential candidate, John F Kerry.

Ratzinger is known as a man of formidable intellect and strong opinions. For many in the Catholic Church, he is a divisive figure, indeed many cardinals and bishops are uncomfortable with his orthodoxy. Since his seminary days he has been obsessed with the dangers posed by dissent.

"More and more," he wrote in 1997 of his time as a student in the 1950s, "there was the impression that nothing stood fast in the church, that everything was up for revision."

As as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he made a name stamping out dissent. As the dean of the College of Cardinals, he was known for his ultraconservative principles and his ability to be sharply critical of liberal opponents. The Ratzinger agenda advocates a church that influences public policy, and it sees Western secularism as the greatest threat to Christianity.

Often described as the intellectual clone of the late pontiff, he slammed the door shut on any discussion on a broad range of issues from the ordination of women, celibacy of priests and homosexuality, while defending his rigid positions as the theological truth. If orthodoxy means a having a smaller church, but one that is more ideologically pure, he is in favour.

As recently as Monday, after saying Mass before the conclave of Cardinals, he delivered an uncompromising sermon warning against deviation from orthodox Catholic teaching.

Opinion about him remains divided in Germany, a sharp contrast to John Paul II, who was revered in his native Poland. Many blame Ratzinger for decrees from Rome barring priests from counselling pregnant teens and blocking German Catholics from sharing communion with their Lutheran brethren at a joint gathering in 2003.

Ratzinger has clashed with prominent theologians at home, most notably the liberal Hans Kueng, who helped him get a teaching post at the University of Tuebingen in the 1960s. The Cardinal later publicly criticised Kueng, whose licence to teach theology was revoked by the Vatican in 1979.

He also clashed openly with fellow German Cardinal Walter Kasper, a moderate who has urged less centralised church governance. "He has hurt many people and far overstepped his boundaries in Germany," said Christian Wiesner, spokesman for the pro-reform Wir Sind Kirche, or We Are Church, movement.

For many Ratzinger represents the conservative, even repressive, aspects of John Paul II's papacy. For his defenders, he is seriously struggling to shape a faithful, enduring church that can withstand the assaults of contemporary culture.

Critics accuse Ratzinger of repressive censorship. But his supporters say that he thinks that his attitude keeps theologians disciplined and focused on their true vocation of supporting the faith of simple believers in a non-believing world.

In his autobiography, Ratzinger said he sensed he was out of step with his fellow Germans as early as the 1960s, when he was a young assistant at the Second Vatican Council in Rome.

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