The College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church quickly selected German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope on April 19. He chose the name of Benedict XVI, and was to be installed in the office April 24.
Some have referred to him as 'God's Rottweiler' for the fierce, tenacious manner in which he enforced doctrinal discipline for the Papacy over the last 24 years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the successor organization to the Inquisition.
Conservatives within the Roman Catholic Church were pleased by the selection, but they were nearly alone in that rejoicing. Most members of the GLBT community were dismayed.
Ratzinger, 78, was raised in Nazi Germany and drafted into the army in the closing months of World War II. He was ordained a priest in 1951 and began a career as a theologian and professor. He was named Cardinal of Munich in 1977, and was called to the Vatican in 1981 by Pope John Paul II, with whom he became close.
He has been one of the leading antigay voices within the Catholic Church. In a 1986 pastoral letter to bishops, he called homosexuality 'an intrinsic moral evil' and 'an objective disorder.'
More recently, in a book published last fall, he joined those voices seeking to restrict marriage to solely that of a man and a woman. He wrote, 'To create a legal form of a kind of homosexual marriage, in reality, does not help these people.'
Ratzinger sought to downplay the importance of allegations of sexual abuse within the Church and to protect priests rather than aid their victims. In a 2002 interview with the press he said, 'I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower.'
Some members of the clergy have pushed for a loosening of the Church's strictures against the use of condoms, particularly within the context of preventing HIV infections in Africa where the epidemic is rampant. But Ratzinger has been dogmatic in his demands for adherence to opposition to condoms.
He cracked down on leading liberal theologians, including the German Hans Kung, the Brazilian Leonardo Boff, and Father Charles Curran, who taught at Catholic University in Washington, DC. That prompted Kung to comment in 1985, 'Joseph Ratzinger is afraid, and just like Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor, he fears nothing more than freedom.'
In a sermon delivered before his fellow Cardinals on April 18, immediately before they met to elect a new Pope, Ratzinger decried 'a dictatorship of relativism.' He said the modern world has jumped 'from one extreme to the other; from Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to vague religious mysticism.' He offered a traditional values approach.
Reaction from the gay community was swift and uniformly negative.
'The elevation of Cardinal Ratzinger is being seen by many GLBT Catholics as a profound betrayal by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and betrayal of one of the most fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ as the loving Good Shepherd who reached out to the ones separated from the flock,' said Sam Sinnett, president of DignityUSA.
'We believe the 21st century Roman Catholic hierarchical shepherds are themselves lost and it is up to the flock to call them back.'
Dignity called upon its members to pray for the Church from now until Pentecost ( May 15 ) . Sinnett said Pentecost is the feast of the birth of the Church. We pray that this Pentecost may be a time of rebirth.'
Sister Jeanninee Gramick called it 'a great disappointment…The method of Cardinal Ratzinger has been that we don't' talk things out, we suppress.' She was a cofounder of New Ways Ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics who was silenced by Ratzinger and the Church in 2000.
'We share a deep sadness that one of the world's most homophobic religious leaders has been elevated to the papacy, and regret that his policies will continue to devalue the rich spiritual gifts of LGBT people and women of faith,' said Rev. Troy D. Perry, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches ( MCC )
'My faith teaches that all people can change, so my prayers today are that the eyes of Cardinal Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – will be opened to the unique giftedness and blessing that LGBT people can be to the Church.'
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force pulled no punches 'as a long-time Catholic from a staunchly Catholic family.'
'Today, the princes of the Roman Catholic Church elected as Pope a man whose record has been one of unrelenting, venomous hatred for gay people.' He called Ratzinger 'the driving force behind a long string of pronouncements using the term 'evil' to describe gay people, homosexuality, and marriage equality.'
'Someday the Church will apologize to gay people as it has to others it has oppressed in the past. …It seems inevitable that this Pope will cause even more pain and give his successors even more for which to seek atonement.'
Human Rights Campaign executive director Joe Solmonese noted the 'deeply disturbing comments' that Ratzinger has made about gays in the past. 'We hope that Pope Benedict XVI will follow the biblical tradition of expressing love and compassion for all.'
In a highly unusual move, Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the influential Jewish magazine Tikkun, issued a lengthy and stinging rebuke of the Cardinal. He said Ratzinger 'has distinguished himself as a man who can be counted on to side with the most anti-humane and repressive forces, in opposition to those who seek to give primacy to a world of peace and justice.'
Lerner criticized him for leading efforts to elevate the Pope Pius XII to sainthood, even while colluding with Nazi Germany. 'Instead of repenting for the failure of the Church to give unequivocal messages telling all Catholics that they would be prevented from receiving communion for collaborating or cooperating in any way with Nazi rule, or for failing to hide and protect Jews who were marked for extermination, Ratzinger has sought to whitewash this disgraceful moment in Church history.'