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A New Pope

Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page A24

"AN ADULT FAITH does not follow the waves of fashion and the latest novelty." With those words, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, concluded the last sermon he gave before the cardinals of the Catholic Church held their conclave in Rome. It is not for us to comment upon matters of Catholic doctrine, or indeed upon the internal deliberations of any religious institution. But as the international reaction to the death of Pope John Paul II demonstrated -- and as the multinational, flag-waving crowd in St. Peter's Square yesterday proved once again -- the leader of the Catholic Church has extraordinary political and moral influence around the world. There are areas in which the new pope could have a tremendous impact, on both Catholics and non-Catholics, in this country and everywhere else, for better or for worse.

Pope John Paul II was famous for reaching out to other faiths, and there's reason to hope that his successor may continue that tradition. Pope Benedict XVI could do great good by expressing clear and open opposition to bigotry and religious prejudice in a world containing far too much of both. We also hope that this pope, like his predecessor, will stand up to the world's dictators and for the rights of Catholics and others to practice their faiths freely. Because of his church's presence in almost every country, the pope is unusually well placed to speak about human rights abuses, respect for human dignity and the rule of law.

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There's less reason to hope, perhaps, that Pope Benedict XVI will rethink policies that we believe have harmful effects, but it's fair to point out that it's not only Catholics who suffer from some of those. Certainly we hope that the pope's admirable profession of "adult faith" does not mean that the church must continue to impede the distribution of condoms in Africa and in other developing countries, where greater use could inhibit the spread of AIDS and prevent thousands of premature deaths. We also hope that the new pope has the courage to intervene, rapidly and decisively, to make clear a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to child abuse by priests. And we hope he'll weigh the possible benefits of new medical technologies, and not dismiss them out of hand. It is an extraordinary pulpit that the former Cardinal Ratzinger has been given. If he uses it well, the whole world will benefit.

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