Germans proud of new pope, amid misgivings about his conservative stance

"We are the Pope!" Germany's biggest-selling daily screamed on its front page Wednesday, reflecting national pride in the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the 265th pontiff.

But the Bild newspaper's joy was far from universal. Berlin's left-leaning taz daily appeared with a black front page and the simple headline: "Oh, my God."

While many Germans fear Benedict XVI will maintain the conservative path laid out by his predecessor, there was no disputing the sense of pride at seeing one of their own rise to the papacy, 60 years after the end of World War II.

"It is an important sign of the final return of Germany to the international community, which the Roman Catholic Church has also chosen to reflect," Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who heads the Roman Catholic German Bishops' Conference, said in Rome.

"It is a great honor for our country," said Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

An overwhelming 76 percent of Germans questioned late Tuesday by Infratest dimap said a German pope was a good thing. Another 63 percent of the 529 Germans polled said they considered Ratzinger a good choice.

The gave a margin of error of 1.9 percent.

Congratulations also came from the heads of Germany's Jewish and Islamic communities, both expressing hope the new pope would maintain dialogue with other world religions.

There was disappointment, however, from more liberal theologians and Catholics who had hoped the next pontiff would be more open on views that have caused some Germans to turn their back on the church, such as the role of women, celibacy and birth control.

"The election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope is an enormous disappointment for all those who hoped for a reformist and pastoral pope," said Swiss-born theologian Hans Kueng - who knew the pope during his more liberal days as a professor at the University in Tuebingen in the 1960s.

"He must find a new path," said Christian Weisner, spokesman for the liberal We Are Church movement. "The church must be open for women, it must find a new position on sexuality, it must take steps toward the interdenominational dialogue. It is very important."

In many ways, the problems facing the Catholic church in Benedict's homeland mirror those it faces around the world _ too few priests, growing agnosticism and a feeling of alienation from the conservative decrees in Rome.

"The road facing the new pontiff is steep and stony," Bild columnist Paul C. Martin wrote.

In the nave of the Frauenkirche in downtown Munich, where Benedict XVI served as bishop and cardinal in the late 1970s before going to Rome, 59-year-old Christiane Koerprich said she had mixed feelings about the new pope.

"He is very conservative, and that means the wishes of many people wont" be filled or fulfilled, Koerprich said.

"But I don't know him personally, and I think in general it's good to have a German pope."

Even German Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who insisted to others congratulating him for the papal election of a compatriot that "it is the person who counts, not the nationality," said he had to admit he was proud the new pontiff "is one of ours."

"I always said he was the best horse that we have in the stable," said Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne.

Associated Press

On the photo: Benedict XVI

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