April 21, 2005
VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI made a seamless transition of church leadership Thursday by reappointing the entire Vatican hierarchy from the last papacy while showing increasing signs that he is not the aloof and dour prelate that many anticipated.
He waved and smiled at crowds gathered along the short stretch between the Vatican gates and his old apartment, where he spent some time in the afternoon. "Viva il papa!" some shouted. The pope, dressed all in white, raised both hands in a greeting.
His schedule also shows hints of the openness and symbolic gestures that were at the heart of John Paul II's reign: a meeting with journalists Saturday, an outdoor Mass to formally take the papal throne Sunday and a visit Monday to a church built over the tomb of St. Paul - an apostle who carries deep significance for Roman Catholics and Christian Orthodox.
The Vatican even unveiled new e-mail addresses for Benedict, following an innovation started by John Paul.
In the first days of his papacy, the 78-year-old Benedict has projected two clear styles.
One was expected: the confident and well-prepared Vatican insider who was one of John Paul's closest advisers for more than two decades. His decisions on the top-level posts came quickly - some popes have struggled for weeks - and showed continuity with his predecessor.
There were no changes in any major Vatican office all the way up to the No. 2 slot, the secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. The only question remains who will fill the powerful job that the new pope held since 1981: overseeing church doctrine and punishing those who stray.
The second image emerging - a humble and welcoming pastor - has caught many off guard.
The pontiff's name, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, became synonymous among Catholics with the church's strictest factions and earned him nicknames that played off his German background, such as "God's rottweiler."
But top prelates and other church experts say it was an unfair reputation.
All agree that he is strongly rooted in church traditions and inflexible on issues such as the church's bans on contraception and women priests. But so was John Paul. The new pontiff may lack his predecessor's charisma, but he shares his sense of reaching out to the faithful, they say.
"He was a follower and servant of the late Pope John Paul II," Vatican-based Colombian Cardinal Lopez Trujillo told Colombian radio RCN. "He is a simple man, serene, cordial, with a fine sense of humor and very kind. ... No one has seen him in a moment of indisposition of rancor or intolerance. These are myths the press invented."
Another cardinal, Italian Tarcisio Bertone, who had worked as Ratzinger's top aide, described how the new pope always paid attention to the street cats around the Vatican and how they sometimes followed him as he walked to his office.
Bertone joked: "One time the Swiss Guards had to intervene: `Look, your eminence, the cats are laying siege to the Holy See.'"
The Rev. Anthony Figueiredo, a Rome-trained theologian at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, said the pontiff is making the needed transition from the rigid role of "defender of doctrine" to the world stage as "unifier and spiritual leader."
Benedict "will be very firm on doctrine. We know that," said Figueiredo. "But you will see a man who is much more approachable than this reputation as an authoritarian, Germanic figure."
On Wednesday, with several nods to John Paul's groundbreaking papacy, Benedict sketched out some of his broad priorities, including "an open and sincere dialogue" with other faiths and trying to reverse the decline in church attendance and vocations in the West.
He also appears interested in picking up where John Paul left off with efforts to end the nearly 1,000-year estrangement with Orthodox churches, which broke with the Roman church over papal authority and disputes about the liturgy. One of the late pope's unfulfilled dreams was to visit Russia, the most populous Orthodox nation.
On Monday, Benedict plans to visit the Rome basilica built over the tomb of St. Paul, who helped bring Christianity to regions on both sides of the current Catholic-Orthodox divide.
The Sunday inauguration Mass on St. Peter's Square also shows he favors the populist touch of recent popes who have opted to hold their installation ceremonies outdoors rather than in St. Peter's Basilica.
The Vatican expects at least 1,500 bilingual translators from the German-speaking areas of northern Italy to assist pilgrims from the pope's homeland. The following day, the pope plans a separate audience with German faithful, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.
With all Vatican offices but one mirroring John Paul's papacy, the talk is about who Benedict will choose to become the church's enforcer of doctrine. Among names that have surfaced are Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Austria and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.
There is also speculation about how long Sodano will remain secretary of state. He is 77, two years past the normal retirement age for Vatican officials.