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World: Celebration, Skepticism After Election Of New Pope

Pope Benedict XVI World leaders have welcomed the election of the new Roman Catholic pope, German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. But broader reaction to Pope Benedict XVI has been mixed. Many liberal Catholics are disappointed with the choice of such a conservative cardinal.

Prague, 20 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Bells rang out in Pope Benedict's home town of Marktl in southern Germany.

Young girls waved Vatican paper flags as men in traditional costumes marched through the town. Mayor Hubert Gschwendtner said it is a proud day for his town:

"It is with pride and recognition that I say: we are standing here, across the birthplace of Pope Benedict the XVI," Gschwendtner said.

World leaders, too, had words of welcome for the new pope. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's reaction was typical.

"I think he [Pope Benedict XVI] is a man of great experience who has worked very closely with the late pope, and I hope [he] will be able to make the same spiritual contribution," Annan said.

But broader reaction has been more mixed.

That's because Benedict is known for sharing the staunchly conservative views of his predecessor, John Paul II.

To some, like American Catholic Ned Farmer, that's a point in his favor.

"I am happy. I am pleased. I'm happy that he's conservative. I'm glad, it's good that the Catholic Church stands for something," Farmer said.

But Ratzinger's election is a disappointment to others, including Chilean Manuel Celis, who had hoped a Latin American would be elected pope this time.

Celis : "I don't think he's the most fitting."
Journalist: "Who did you expect?'
Celis : "I was expecting a Latin American."

And then there are those who had hoped a new pope might relax the church's strict opposition to divorce, female priests, homosexuality, and contraception.
In his first mass as pope today, Benedict said that working for dialogue with other religions was just what he was planning to do.

South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu called Benedict a "rigid conservative" out of step with the times.

He said he had hoped for someone with a "more reasonable position" regarding condoms and HIV/AIDS.

Brazilian woman Clari Santos spoke of her disappointment.

"I think that he's somewhat conservative," Santos said. "We wanted a bit more movement in the church, but they chose so they must know what they're doing."

There's also been concern the new pope might not reach out to other faiths.

In 2000, Ratzinger branded other Christian churches as deficient, calling Lutherans "absurd" when they complained.

He has also said it would be an "enormous mistake" to allow predominantly Muslim Turkey to join the European Union.

Leaders of other religions today urged the new pope to continue the interfaith mission of his predecessor.

Muslim leaders in Asia and the Middle East; Rowan Williams, the leader of the Anglican Church; and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II all called for dialogue and cooperation, as did Israeli Tourism Minister Abraham Hirchson.

" I am sure that Mr. Ratzinger, the pope, the new pope will be understanding as the last pope for the Jewish people, for the state of Israel, and for understanding between the religions," Hirchson said.

In his first mass as pope today, Benedict said that working for dialogue with other religions was just what he was planning to do.

(news agencies)