German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has been named Pope Benedict XVI. That scream you hear is coming from the liberals in America and Western Europe. Ratzinger was John Paul II’s doctrinal enforcer (in the office formerly known as the Inquisition) and is a well-known theological conservative.
John H. at Confessing Evangelical has a good Lutheran take on it. Like his predecessor, Benedict XVI will probably be a strong ally for Christians of all stripes on issues surrounding the culture of life, but a detriment to actual reformation within the Catholic Church. Confessing Protestants are likely to say about Benedict XVI, like they said about JP2, “he was strong on Trinitarian orthodoxy and moral issues, but then there’s that other stuff.” If his recent public pronouncements are any indication, Benedict XVI sees relativism in the West as a significant threat to the church, meaning that he might just find reasons to work with Protestants against a common enemy.
John also makes a good point about the ordination of women within the Catholic church. As long as the Catholic church holds out against the ordination of women, conservative church bodies in the U.S. (such as the LCMS) would likely be able to follow suit. While it was unlikely JP2’s immediate successor would reverse course, the issue will be around for a while, and definitely come up again after Benedict XVI is gone. Should the Catholic church turn liberal at that point, you won’t find any mainline Protestants able to hold the line.
Which underscores one final point: Whether we Protestants like it or not, the Pope is still the most-recognized Christian in the world. Not Billy Graham, not Rick Warren, not any Christian musician or other pop culture figure. To that end, a theological conservative is a good thing, even if he comes with Catholic “baggage.” If Benedict XVI can maintain his predecssor’s theological orthodoxy, while perhaps turning away from JP2’s flirtations with univeralism and excessive Mary veneration, he will be considered a successful Pope in my book.