THE COLLEGE of Cardinals selected a consummate insider yesterday, naming Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany as holy father of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics. Thousands of euphoric onlookers in St. Peter's Square chanted ''Long live the pope" and ''Benedict" -- the name chosen by the 78-year-old Ratzinger. For many it might seem a safe choice, signaling little change in direction, at least in the near term.
Ratzinger, the theological chief of staff to the late Pope John Paul II, is a guardian of traditional doctrine. As dean of the College of Cardinals, he set the tone with an indictment of modernity just prior to the voting. Warning against the ''dictatorship of relativism," Ratzinger evoked an image of the church as a ''little boat of Christian thought" buffeted by liberalism and ''radical individualism." He has emerged as the captain of that ship.
By all accounts, the new pope is a brilliant theologian with a stated commitment to preserve his faith without being blown off course by current events. He is also an eminent administrator. He is expected to eschew the well-traveled footsteps of John Paul II, opting instead to be a stay-at-home pope who concentrates on putting the Vatican's house in order. It is only natural, however, for observers around the world -- Christian and non-Christian -- to wonder how the election of the 265th pope will affect them.
A common ethical groundwork should be possible among people of different religions despite differences in articles of faith. But the election of Pope Benedict XVI raises concerns among Protestants who felt slighted by Ratzinger during their attempts at ecumenical dialogue. The National Catholic Reporter notes that Ratzinger has discouraged the presence of Islam in Europe. He has been quoted as saying it would be ''a grave error" to admit Turkey, a largely Muslim nation, to the European Union. He also discouraged Asian priests from examining non-Christian religions for commonalities.
It is unclear how the new pope will rebuild church attendance in Europe and the United States. No one expected the College of Cardinals to ruminate on priestly celibacy or women priests when choosing a pope. But US Catholics will continue to ponder such topics and connect them to priest shortages and parish closings. In Latin America and Africa, growth areas for the church, many Catholics worry more about poverty than about priests who push the ecclesiastical envelope.
The late John Paul II shared his successor's conservative views but connected people and issues on a personal level. He was a man of great range. Respecters of religion worldwide are hoping that the reign of Benedict XVI will be known for similar beneficence.