The College of Cardinals has selected Joseph Cardinal Ratinger to be pope. As the title indicates, he's taken the name Benedict XVI. I have to have mixed feelings about him. After all,
he's the one who insisted to John Paul II that he not sign the Joint Agreement with the Lutherans (which I've posted about here and here) that I think was generally indicative of a good movement within the Roman Catholic Church, and he also changed none of the catechism as a result of the Joint Agreement with Lutherans. I think that's the most critical issue for the future direction of the RCC. [Update: I've been corrected on this. See this post for more information.]
On the other hand, on issues I think they need to hold ground on, he's been a stalwart. I don't agree with the RCC position on artificial contraception, and I think the whole category of priests is unbiblical (or at least restricting it to some but not all believers is unbiblical), so the issue of women as priests is irrelevant. There are issues lurking behind the scenes there that I do care about, and I suspect he's more likely to agree with me on those. As much as I disagree with the Catholic statement of the gospel, it's much more accurate than those who reduce it to social and political themes, and Ratzinger has resisted that pressure.
But it's likely that he was selected for the same reasons Republicans nominated George H.W. Bush for president in 1988. When you have a president you like that much, you have to continue the tradition with the next president, even if it's someone who won't be the sort of person who really fits with that tradition, even if it's not someone you expect to hold the office. In both cases, Bush didn't live up to the tradition. He wasn't Reagan in most of the ways I liked Reagan, and he sure enough lasted one term. Then people were ready to move on to something else for a while. They gave Reagan the tip of the hat wit Bush, though. You can't move on after someone like that so easily.
That may well be what happened here. Ratzinger was widely seen as someone simply associated with John Paul II. He's 78, only 6 years younger than John Paul II was. It's not likely that he'll have a long papacy. He was the cardinals' way of honoring John Paul II by voting for someone who could serve as our transition to someone new. He's not John Paul II. Some of what he's most known for is in the opposite direction. Yet he's associated with him, and that's what counts when you're just picking an interim personage.
I would love to see Benedict XVI have time to make his mark. Anyone in a position of leadership should ideally get the chance to make an impression and have the influence that goes along with the office. I think this perspective helps Protestants to remember that the direction we saw with Paul John II toward views that fit more closely with scripture is not over
simply because the most powerful man who resisted them is now pope. In God's providence, it may well be that Benedict XVI will help facilitate that in some way, either by an unlikely change in his stance or because of the contrast between him and his predecessor on such issues, which may well provoke an itch among the cardinals for change the next time around. My prayer is that it will be a change to someone who won't sacrifice on the still-important things that some elements within the RCC would more likely want to change if they're itching to change on this. Is it possible for them to find a pope with a liberal attitude on some issues and a conservative attitude on others? Well, they did it the previous time.