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New Pope Elected

Pope Benedict XVI

Father Bill Byrne
Chaplain, University of Maryland
Tuesday, April 19, 2005; 2:30 PM

Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany Tuesday as the new pope to succeed John Paul II, and announced he will take the name of Benedict XVI.

The Latest:Joseph Ratzinger Chosen as New Pope (Post, April 19)


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Father Bill Byrne, chaplain at the University of Maryland, was online Tuesday, April 19, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany to become Pope Benedict XVI.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Washington, D.C.: Will this Pope change any of the existing laws and will he allow women to have a bigger role in the church?

Father Bill Byrne: I am not able to foresee the future. The role of the Pope is the preservation of Sacred Doctrine not the creation of new teachings. If you were implying that a change of role would mean a clerical role, then no. But, as we have seen since Vatican II, the voice of women is growing. They were the first to announce the Resurrection two thousand years ago, and women must continue to do so. Just look at Blessed Theresa of Calcutta. She was one of the most influential people of our century and she was not a priest.

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Washington, D.C.: Is the choice of Cardinal Ratzinger a rejection of the more socially conscious view of the Church and Christendom espoused by the Latin American and African cardinals?

Father Bill Byrne: Pope Benedict cares about people just as much as he cares about doctrine. Social Conscience also involves telling the truth that is not always the most popular.

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DeBary, Fla.: What changes can we expect relating to Inter- faith concerns and cooperation with Roman Catholic and other Christian denominations?

Father Bill Byrne: I was speaking to my Lutheran Pastor neighbor the other week and he told me that he hoped Card. Ratzinger would be elected. I was surprised, but he explained that Lutheran theologians respected his intellect and that one always knows where one stands....even if you don't agree. These are his thoughts. I agree. I think he is respected deeply by the theologians of other faiths.

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Arlington, Va.: Given Cardinal Ratzinger's advanced age, do you think the College of Cardinals chose him as a way to continue JPII's legacy for a few years while the Church decides in which direction it would like to head?

Father Bill Byrne: I think your insight is valid. However, I would not say that the Church is going to "decide" its direction. It will continue to grow in an understanding of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the gift of Vatican II. Transition Popes can make a difference, just ask Blessed John XIII!!!

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Washington, D.C.: Father Byrne,

It seems that the U.S. media can't keep themselves from confusing doctrinal conservatism with political conservatism. What are your thoughts about how the media portrays Pope Benedict as a "hard line" conservative, and do you think that he'll confound the "conservative stereotype by making similar (or even greater) calls for social justice made by John Paul II?

Father Bill Byrne: I could not agree more. Pope Benedict will show the world that the Church's mission is Truth in Charity. They go hand in hand.

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Washington, D.C.: A lot of non-Catholics here in the office were dismayed at the selection of Ratzinger and see it as a step backwards. As a Catholic, I was happy with the selection and feel that the Pope should be a strong leader and not pander to popular views or opinion. Do you think Pope Benedict will be a polarizing figure within the church?

Father Bill Byrne: Are they disappointed because they have a "destination" for the Church that is different from the Holy Spirit's? Must be, huh. I think the Holy Father will be a source of unity as people are forced to abandon their preconceptions and move beyond the labels so popular in the media's explanation of reality.

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Mandeville, La.: Father Byrne,
What, if anything, might the new pope be inclined to do about the shortage of priests in the U.S.?

Father Bill Byrne: The shortage of priests is not just the responsibility of the Pope. That would be a very Roman centered vision of the Church. It is all of our responsibility. As one who works with college students, the youth are attracted to fidelity and certitude. So I think you and I should pray for vocations, talk it up and encourage young men to be holy and chaste.

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Beltsville, Md.: Father Bill, my daughter speaks well of you at UMD. I hope we get to meet soon.

Interesting that your Lutheran pastor friend indicated his respect for Ratzinger. But I wonder if the normal everyday Catholic American has the same respect, given his reputation as a Doctrinal Conservative, a hard liner, if you will.

As Benedict XVI, will he be able to be a peacemaker between the conservative and progressive Catholics, just as the previous Benedict tried to be a peace maker in WWI? Or does he even care to do so?

Father Bill Byrne: I think very few people have ever read anything that Joseph Ratzinger has written. They have only read what people say he has written. Our Fall retreat was based in part on his writings on the Eucharist. The students loved his insights. The best thing is that the conservatives listen to him. I hope that the others do. If so, he will be the voice that challenges both sides to Orthodoxy, moving beyond opinion to faith.

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Centereach, N.Y.: What order is Pope Benedict XVI from? Is he Benedictine? How does all of this relate to Malachi’s prophesies?

Father Bill Byrne: Benedict XVI is a diocesan clergyman. As for Malachi’s predictions, we will have to wait for the end to see if they were correct. Best bet is to listen to Jesus when he says, "you know neither the day nor the hour." Just be good today.

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Fairfax, Va.: Father Byrne, Thank you for taking questions. With the selection of Ratzinger, what do you think the College of Cardinals was trying to say or not say, given the short length of time of their selection (only 2 days)? It seems to me they were not ready for a younger pope or one from a less developed nation. Any thoughts.

Father Bill Byrne: I have learned that our explanations and ruminations about what the College of Cardinals was thinking bear little on reality because once a man accepts the election, he is his own man. Look at John XXIII. Guessing is fun, but not that accurate. I am sure Pope Benedict will surprise us all in some way or another.

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Washington, D.C.: Father Byrne, a lot has been made of Cardinal Ratzinger's mass yesterday, particularly in reference to his words about remaining faithful to doctrine and guarding against relativism. Yet, the Church has always adapted to the changing world, which I assume has been necessary to continue to meet the spiritual needs of parishioners. Are the "pundits" wrong to place so much emphasis on what was said at the mass?

Father Bill Byrne: The Church has always had a two fold role of preservation of the teaching and the enculturation of the teaching. We combat error. Like any mother who warns her kids against things that hurt them, so will She do to us. From my office at the University of Maryland campus, I applauded his warnings since relativism is a harmful error of our day. But also, the Church must continue to nurture the faith and allow its expression in different cultures while remaining true to Christ who is the same "yesterday, today and forever".

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