ONE CAN tell by everything going on in the ecclesial world that John Paul II is still very much with us, not bodily, but through his teachings—his staunch advocacy for the cause of human dignity, and his equally relentless protection of the so-called core Catholic values against incessant nibbling by “more modern, more liberal” thinking—thanks largely to the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as the new pope, Benedict XVI.

It is to be expected, perhaps, that the shadow and influence of any great leader, ecclesial or political, would linger for a while after his death, but in the case of Benedict XVI, we may be looking still at an old pontificate, its shepherd merely leaving an officer in charge.

Of course, that may be too much to say of someone elected by his peers and supposedly with the grace of the Holy Ghost, but to leave it unsaid would also be amiss in a world that is more than touched by the Spirit when it comes to crying for transparency in political settings. And, like it or not, the papal conclave has a plethora of political colors. Read Time and you’ll know what I mean.

In any case, there is absolutely nothing wrong with continuing what has been initiated by the late Pope, or improving on what has been accomplished. John Paul II had the world waiting anxiously for his every move since he first sounded the very bold and moving call for Catholics to “be not afraid”. His papacy broke time-bound traditions and biases, reaching out and inviting people of all colors and faiths into peaceful unity, and yet was unflinchingly conservative in areas such as the role of women in the Church, contraception, divorce, and same-sex marriage—ticklish areas that have been the cause of dissent in places.

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Ratzinger’s rise to the bishopric of Rome, surely, has confirmed many a hunch. He was perceived to be primus inter pares even before his election, having been the late pontiff’s right-hand man at the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981. Some even aver that the ailing John Paul confirmed his favor for Ratzinger when he chose Germany as the venue for the next World Youth Day.

Then, there’s the fact that a world so used to John Paul wanted someone like him to be pope. The cardinals looked back to the curia for someone to keep things together, as an attempt at pleasing the din could have gone overboard both ways—a conservative without charisma or a liberal without temperance could spell doom for the 2000-year-old Catholic Church, which is dealing with too much difference in opinion as it is. The choice was obvious: a man that is sure to continue John Paul’s legacy, albeit with a much quieter charm (it is said that Ratzinger could walk from his quarters to his office unnoticed, and we’re talking about the Vatican).

His age (78) takes care of the expectation that the cardinals would look only for a transitory pope, one that would ease the Church into another phase of drastic changes in accord with the times, but not too soon from John Paul II’s radical moves. True to form, the new Pontiff has declared that he will continue to strive for dialogue between the faiths, Christian unity for all, and the maintenance of his predecessor’s stance on the disputed Catholic issues.

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Ratzinger’s introversion, coupled with his former office, has spurred talks that he is a silent and strict whip wielder when it comes to matters of faith, but he started to shed that image when, during the interregnum, he played to the hilt the roles necessitated by his deanship of the College of Cardinals, convening the princes of the Church upon John Paul’s death and leading in all the Eucharistic celebrations—all in full view of the media. Someone, he made sure everyone noticed, was taking charge.

Truly, all eyes are on Benedict XVI, who is not only Peter’s successor but the great John Paul II’s. But for sure, the German Shepherd is not the late pontiff, and by that token must be given some leash (I couldn’t resist). Nevertheless, expectations, frustrations, and rumors regarding his election aside, he is per Catholic tradition the heir of St. Peter, and God is his liege. His word ex cathedra is automatic dogma by virtue of the Divine imperative that whatever is held true on earth is true in heaven. Catholics owe him reverence and humble obedience.


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