The College of Cardinals has, as the bookies predicted, named Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's chief theology cop, as the next successor to St. Peter. He has decided to style himself Pope Benedict XVI.
Am I surprised by this result? No. Am I pleased with it? Parts of me are, believe it or not. Yes, the man has made sure that the Church hierarchy toes the conservative line on personal morality, married priests, and female ordination put forth by his former superior, Pope John Paul II. And his brook-no-dissent style is very much out of step with the spirit of our times.
But that may be just the point. In an age when everything is open to question, it may be useful to have a symbol of certainty in our midst, if for no other reason than to have something solid to question, test and probe. The inside buzz on Ratzinger is that he is a dedicated listener, even to those with whom he disagrees sharply. That quality seems in short supply these days. Those of us who do not agree with the totality of the Church's teachings, whether on personal or socioeconomic morality, should at least engage them seriously in order to understand their basis and thus criticize them knowledgeably. In Pope Benedict XVI, we will have an intelligent and articulate advocate of those teachings--someone who will keep the rest of us mentally sharp.