On Good Friday, March 25, he compared the church to a sinking boat and condemned "filth" in the priesthood, an apparent reference to sex abusers.
In previous statements, he has called other Christian religions "defective," opposed Muslim Turkey's entry into the European Union, labeled homosexuality a tendency toward "moral evil" and described segments of feminist thought as "lethal" for obscuring "natural" differences between the sexes.
In the face of continuing expressions of dismay from Catholics who seek change in their church, cardinals from several continents appeared at news conferences here Wednesday to defend Benedict.
Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York urged reporters to be "wise enough" not to make premature judgments. "What I would like you to do is hold off. Give him a chance," Egan said. "Before you make any judgments, wait. You may see this guy is a great personality."
"I think we have to be very careful about characterizing the Holy Father and very simply putting labels upon this man in the church," said Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles. "He has so many dimensions, so many qualities. I think that once people know him as we have, they will love and appreciate him."
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago added: "Sometimes I think in covering events and people, in order to create something clear, a certain aspect of someone's personality, or a single dimension, is chosen. It can become a caricature."
"The vision that some people have of the Holy Father as someone who is not a person of dialogue is a skewed vision," added Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington. "I believe you will find in the papacy of Benedict XVI a good deal of consultation, a good deal of collegiality."
When asked what he would say to skeptical Catholics and sex abuse victims who have expressed disappointment in Benedict's election, McCarrick said: "If they are looking for someone who will always try to be fair, they have that man in Benedict XVI. If they are looking for someone who will always try to be clear, they have got that person in Benedict XVI. If they're looking for someone whose heart will break when he hears those stories, they're also looking for someone like Benedict XVI." The stories McCarrick alluded to concern sexual abuse by priests.
Turning his attention to self-described Catholic liberals, McCarrick cautioned: "We're all open to listening to the needs and concerns of people. But we have the church from the Lord Jesus. And we are not authorized to change the church."
At a separate news conference, Cardinal Eusebio Oscar Scheid, archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, described Benedict as "tender." Scheid asserted, however, that "if someone is outside the context of truth, this is heresy. Brazilians won't be disappointed if they get to know him."
And at another meeting with reporters, English Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor advised Catholics who might have opposed Benedict's election that they can expect a more open leader than the one who, as cardinal, long headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's watchdog of orthodoxy. "Once a man is elected, he becomes preacher for the whole church. I think Pope Benedict will be a man of surprises," he said.
His election continued to draw criticism in some quarters. The Protestant Federation of France received the news "with concern," said the group's president, the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont. The cardinal who had insisted on "non-recognition of other churches" should now show "a sign of ecumenical openness" as pope, he said.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa called the new pope a "rigid conservative." "We would have hoped for someone more open to the more recent developments in the world, the whole question of the ministry of women and a more reasonable position with regards to condoms and HIV/AIDS," he said. The church prohibits the use of condoms as part of a ban on contraception, but some Catholics contend that their use should be allowed for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, a serious problem in much of Africa.
German Lutherans praised the pope for his role in a 1999 accord that resolved disputes that had opened the breach with Catholicism in the 16th century. Nonetheless, there was caution. "How this election will effect ecumenism with reformed churches remains to be seen," said Bishop Johannes Friedrich of Bavaria.
A U.S.-based group of Hindu activists called Navya Shastra, meanwhile, called on the pope to learn more about Hinduism. "Clearly he is misinformed about the central practices and tenets which bind the world's 800 million Hindus," said co-chairman Vikram Masson.
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he expected Benedict to modify his opposition to Turkish membership in the E.U. "His rhetoric may change now as new commitments put people in new situations," he said. "Even in politics, people make all kinds of statements before they assume office."
Special correspondent Sarah Delaney contributed to this report.