By Megan Mcilroy and Kevin Mccullough
WASHINGTON – Maryland Catholics reacted strongly — but not always cheerfully — to the news Tuesday that conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will succeed Pope John Paul II.
Ratzinger, 78, who chose the name Pope Benedict XVI, was chosen on just the second day of the conclave in which Catholic cardinals select the pope.
The announcement was met in Maryland by the ringing of bells at churches, where the black draping doors in mourning of Pope John Paul II was replaced with yellow and white to celebrate the new pope.
“We think he’s going to be great. We’re real happy with him,” said Diane Hoffman, a parishioner at St. Benedict in Baltimore.
Others were not as enthusiastic about the new pope, who they said is known for a “mentality of rigid orthodoxy” in questions of faith.
Rea Howarth, coordinator of Catholics Speak Out, a program of the Quixote center in Hyattsville, said she was “totally astonished that the cardinals selected Cardinal Ratzinger.”
“I cannot fathom what planet they’re living on,” she said. “I think they have brainwashed themselves.”
But where Howarth saw problems with Ratzinger’s orthodoxy, others saw strength in the likely continuation of Pope John Paul II’s legacy.
“Pope John Paul II was very orthodox as well. It is comforting to know that the church’s core values won’t be changed,” said Maggie Datiles, who came to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington to celebrate Tuesday.
Datiles, a Catholic University law student from Rockville, said she learned of Ratzinger’s selection in a text message from her sister. She immediately called her friend, Georgetown University student Liz Gahl, to talk as they watched the news before they headed to the National Shrine to celebrate.
At the nearby Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, Jane Head, a Catholic from Port Republic, celebrated the announcement and said Ratzinger’s intellect will guide him as a leader.
“He is an academic person. He is certainly not going to speak . . . without a lot of study, thought and prayer,” she said.
She also said that Ratzinger will likely “follow in the tradition of John Paul,” but that his reign won’t likely be long.
“He is going to be a transitional kind of pope because of his age,” she said.
But Liz Vangaever, a Chevy Chase resident who was sitting outside the National Shrine Tuesday, worried about where the new pope might lead the church.
“My understanding of the new Pope Benedict is that he is a traditionalist in areas of women, and that’s a disappointment,” she said.
And though Vangaever said the pope does not play a significant part in her daily life as a Catholic, she knows he will exert a lot of influence in the church.
But other Catholics in the region seemed not to care too much about which man was picked, as long as he got the job done.
Kirk Johnson, a Baltimore resident who said he comes to the National Shrine about once a month, said he did not know too much about the new pope, but that he was “surprised they made the decision so quickly.”
Johnson said there are some issues in the church he would like the new pope to tackle.
“I think we need to address this thing about priesthoods,” he said of the declining number of priests around the country, suggesting maybe the pope should let priests marry.
But no matter what he does, Johnson said the pope is an important figure for Catholics.
“He’s definitely the icon for the Catholic church, the zenith . . . as close to the supreme being as I’ll ever get a chance to meet,” Johnson said.
-30- CNS 04-19-05