A buoyant Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said Tuesday the College of Cardinals had not only chosen a pope who will masterfully build on the work of Pope John Paul II, but "I have no doubt that this is God’s choice."
The bishop, who leads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, was about to speak to seniors Tuesday morning at Seton Catholic High School in Chandler when he got word a new pope had been chosen. But it wasn’t until after Olmsted started his talk that teachers fed him the name of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who selected the name Pope Benedict XVI.
Olmsted said it was a thrill to be first to tell the students about their new Holy Father. He said that when he worked for the Secretariat of the Holy See in the Vatican from 1979 to 1988, he had contact with Ratzinger in church work and on the street.
"We worked for the Holy Father at the same time," Olmsted said. "He lived on one side of St. Peter’s Square and he walked across the square to get to the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, and I lived on the other side of the square and walked across to get to the Secretariat of State, and we often passed right in front of St. Peter’s, and we would just nod to each other.
"I got to know him quite well during my time when I worked there," he said, noting that he and bishops met last June with Ratzinger during Olmsted’s "ad lumina" trip as required by bishops every five years.
Olmsted said Pope Benedict XVI was soundly schooled in the work of the papacy because of his long tenure in Rome."I think he is a pope who will carry on the traditions of John Paul II," Olmsted said. "I don‘t know how long the Lord will give him to serve in the church. I don’t think he sees himself as having the same personality of John Paul II," Olmsted said, adding that he thinks Benedict, who is fluent in many languages, will "travel to the degree that he is able."
Seton sophomore Alissa Oakes said she would have preferred selection of a younger pope. "I think I would want a more permanent pope, someone who will be there for a while . . . and have more of a chance so we don’t have to do it all over again so soon," she said.
Monica Koestner, also a sophomore, said Seton students had been watching the events closely, especially through their religious classes where they profiled leading papal candidates, discussed their work and pressing church issues, but "we never discussed who we would want."
In Scottsdale, Catholics were united in their support of the German cardinal’s election to pope. Most of the faithful who went to special Masses or stopped to say a prayer for their new leader didn’t care about his nationality, age or past.
Owners and patrons of the German Corner restaurant, 4900 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix, were elated that one of their own was elected pope for the first time in nearly 1,000 years.
"I broke into a cold sweat when I heard," said Harold Werner, co-owner and bartender at the restaurant and a Catholic. "German people all over the world should be proud. When John Paul II died, I was back in Germany. I watched all the media there and they all called for Ratzinger to get it. It’s wonderful."
Nearly 100 people gathered in the chapel at Our Lady of Perpetual Help church in Scottsdale for a noon Mass, some with tears in their eyes and others smiling at the prospect of having a new leader in the Vatican.
"I’m glad he’s the one," said Dorothy Hodge of Scottsdale. "He’s going to carry on the traditions Pope John Paul established. There won’t be radical change under this pope."
Mary Douglas of Chandler predicted Ratzinger’s conservative reputation means he’ll keep the church opposed to abortion and birth control — positions she considers key to the faith.
But Ratzinger’s selection is a disappointment to Catholics who have called for liberalization. Mary Jane Benton of Scottsdale said the choice put her "in mourning for my church. The church really does need the voice of women," she said. "It’s just too unbalanced at the moment."
The new pope has a link, though tenuous, to Tempe. That city is a Sister City to Ratzinger’s hometown of Regensburg, Germany, a connection that brought the pope’s brother to Arizona in 1987. Regensburg’s mayor has visited Tempe several times and stayed at the home of Dick Neuheisel, president of Tempe Sister Cities. Neuheisel said he looks forward to a June trip that Tempeans plan to Regensburg. He expects the visitors will celebrate Ratzinger’s new position in German fashion. "We’ll toast him with a German beer," Neuheisel said.
- Tribune writer Garin Groff contributed to this report