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Benedict XVI signals pontificate will be less controlling

ROME—Pope Benedict XVI used his first pontifical Mass Wednesday to praise the late Pope John Paul II and to assure the world that he intends to be a forward-looking pope who'll reach out to other faiths and be open to new ideas.

Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger earned a reputation as a staunch conservative, surprised some listeners by saying he wanted "help and advice" from the cardinals and using the word "collegial."

Collegiality—meaning greater consultation, shared decision-making or regional autonomy—was an important issue for some of the cardinals going into the conclave after the strong control that John Paul exerted over the church.

Benedict's mention of it on his first day in office suggests that he might have had to make assurances in the conclave that his pontificate would be less controlling than his predecessor.

Benedict—the first German-born pontiff in more than 1,000 years—celebrated the Mass in the Sistine Chapel, where he was elected in secret conclave Tuesday. The Mass was restricted to the conclave's cardinal-electors but was televised.

Whereas St. Peter's Square was overflowing with people Tuesday night when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's election was announced, only a few hundred people were gathered in the square Wednesday morning to watch the Mass on giant TV screens.

Speaking in Latin, the new pope pledged to "promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism" and "promote contacts and understandings of the various Christian communities. ... To them, I also send on this occasion, the most cordial greetings of Christ who is the Lord of all."

Benedict also extended greetings to non-Christian faiths—some of which he condemned or dismissed during his long tenure as president of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—by saying he wanted to initiate "an open and sincere dialogue" with their followers.

"We will not spare our efforts to pursue the dialogue opened by my predecessor," he said. "With mutual understandings, we will lay down a foundation for a better future."

He said his pontificate would continue to draw on the Second Vatican Council's contemporary vision of the church, and he praised John Paul, who died April 2, for leaving behind a "more courageous, freer and youthful church."

Benedict has scheduled a news conference for Saturday. He'll be formally installed as pope on Sunday in a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.

Benedict spent Wednesday night with the cardinals at the Vatican's St. Martha residence, where they stayed during the conclave.

Next week he may announce appointments to several important Vatican posts, such as the members of the papal household, the new secretary of state and his successor as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.

These may offer some early signals as to the tone and direction of his new pontificate, including whether the 78-year-old pontiff will seek to draw together his sprawling, divided church of 1.1 billion or lay down strict standards of obedience that could make it a smaller but purer church.

Observers were already reading his first appearance Tuesday night for signs of what kind of pope he'll be.

"Facing St. Peter's (Square), he was remote, regal and elegant, a pope in the style of Pius XII," in the view of Christopher Winner, editor of Rome-based American magazine, who on Wednesday predicted that Benedict would be "an eloquent keeper-of-keys theologian who will not and cannot confuse leadership and populism.

"He will try to unite without breaking ground," Winner wrote on the American magazine Web site. "He will please millions betrothed to doctrine, displease tens of millions who intangibly associated physical liberalism with a more visceral church that seemed ready, under Wojtyla (John Paul II), to break into song. Wojtyla sang with crowds in Mexico; it is unlikely Ratzinger would do the same."

While much of the Catholic world shares Benedict's traditional views on such matters as papal authority, the leadership of ordained males and the ban on divorce and remarriage, these are controversial topics in the industrialized West, according to David Gibson, author of "The Coming Catholic Church," a 2003 study of liberal American Catholicism.

"Conservatives are cheering, but the vast majority of faithful American Catholics wanted to see a pope who would make some changes," Gibson said in an interview.

He said he thought millions of disaffected American Catholics "have stayed (in the church) only because of their affection for John Paul, but I'm not sure if Pope Benedict has that reservoir of goodwill."

Gibson, who's in Rome preparing a biography of Pope Benedict, said some moderate and liberal American Catholics who feel disappointed or excluded by the new pontificate might "just focus on parish life and pay no attention to Rome." That, he said, "could lead to a kind of congregationalist Catholicism." Others, he predicted, "will probably just drift away."

But William Donahue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said Benedict's impeccable credentials as a church conservative could allow him to take some "surprising" initiatives.

"Clerical celibacy, for example, could be made optional," Donahue said in a telephone interview from his offices in New York on Wednesday.

He cited as a precedent Pope Paul VI's creation in 1968 of a commission that included laypeople to consider whether the church should lift its ban on artificial birth control.

"He would have to be very careful," said Donahue, who calls himself an "orthodox, conservative Catholic." The commission on birth control recommended the ban be lifted, but Paul rejected their recommendation, "and that created turmoil."

Donahue also said he thought Benedict could reconsider the ban on artificial birth control, in view of the laity's refusal to accept it. "A teaching has to be accepted in order to be valid. But you never even hear priests talk about it (birth control), so maybe it needs to be addressed."

That Paul VI in 1968 opened the question of birth control to study by a commission "tells me it's not an incontrovertible teaching," said Donahue. Benedict's reputation for orthodoxy means "he could open the door to new things without opening the floodgates."

For more on American magazine's articles on the pope, go to www.theamericanmag.com

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(O'Reilly and Dilanian report for The Philadelphia Inquirer.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): POPE

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050420 Papal seal

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