Lewiston-born Monsignor Charles Murphy is hailing the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. The two worked together, assigned by the late Pope John Paul II to produce a new Catholic catechism in 1990.

“I’m very pleased,” Murphy said.

Murphy, then with the North American College in Rome, now pastor of Holy Martyrs Church in Falmouth, predicts that Catholics will be pleased with their newest pontiff.

“He’s an extraordinary person,” says Murphy, “an extremely righteous person.”

Besides working closely with Ratzinger on the catechism project, Murphy helped run a continuing education program for bishops through the college. Ratzinger was a frequent contributor to his classes.

“I saw a great deal of him,” said Murphy. “I knew him as a practicing theologian. He could speak as a peer” with others expert in church doctrine.

Among those Ratzinger challenged was the religiously liberal Hans Kueng.

Kueng is credited with helping German-born Ratzinger land a teaching post at the University of Tuebingen in Germany in the 1960s. The cardinal later publicly criticized Kueng, according to Associated Press reports. Kueng’s license to teach theology was revoked by the Vatican in 1979.

“Let us … give him a chance,” Kueng told the AP Tuesday. “As with the president of the U.S.A., we should allow a new pope 100 days to learn.”

Not all fans

It’s the early Ratzinger-Kueng disagreements that turned Peter Klein off to Ratzinger.

Klein, CEO of Auburn-based Enefco, grew up in Germany and remembers Ratzinger as a lightning rod of a public figure.

Klein says Ratzinger’s conservatism rubbed him the wrong way.

“He’s too radical for me.” he said. “I have a problem with people” who take dogmatic stands.

“I think … too much fundamentalism … is dividing the world rather than uniting the world,” Klein said.

Ratzinger’s elevation to Pope Benedict XVI will serve to “further polarize” people, Klein predicts.

Klein says he was a Protestant in Germany, but now “I believe there is a difference between God and the church,” that no one faith can claim God as theirs exclusively.

Monsignor Murphy describes Pope Benedict XVI as a different person than the cardinal that Klein remembers. Murphy sees someone who is both “pious and self-effacing.”

Talented pianist

“He’s also a talented pianist,” said Murphy, and someone he described as “charming” and “very approachable.”

“He used to have an apartment across from St. Peter’s,” said Murphy of Ratzinger. “He’d walk to his office.”

Murphy said that in picking Ratzinger, cardinals selected “a person they knew very well, someone they have confidence in.”

Murphy said he was in Rome for the election of John Paul II, and again visited there two years ago. “I hope to get back there to see Pope Benedict,” he said of his colleague.

However, he also noted that at 78, Ratzinger “will not be a pope for a long time.”

During that time, say some, the church will likely not stray far from the path paved by John Paul II.

“It is clear to me,” said Marguerite Stapleton, “that the new pope is a pope of continuity and that he will continue the ways of Pope John Paul II.”

Stapleton, vice president for mission effectiveness at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, added, “I think that faithful Catholics and people of good faith throughout the world will pray for (Pope Benedict) and that he has wisdom and insight and a deep fidelity to the Bible.”

Colleen Lahey, a Catholic and Sisters of Charity Hospital board member, said she hopes Pope Benedict XVI will address issues of interest to American churchgoers.

Among them: Female priests, the right of priests to marry and actions to protect the faithful from pedophile priests.

“I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope” that any of those issues will rise to the top of Benedict’s to-do list, she added.

“I want to see if he continues John Paul’s policies,” she said.

Lahey, who had a chance to see Pope John Paul II in 2003 during a visit to Rome, says she’d now enjoy returning to see Benedict.

Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland also likened Ratzinger to John Paul.

“Our beloved Pope John Paul II set the church on a firm and steady course as he guided the church’s ongoing renewal according to the authentic teaching of the Second Vatican Council,” said Malone in a statement released by the diocese. “The new pope faces many challenges, some of them urgent, but the direction has been set. We believe that he is the choice of the Holy Spirit, who will guide and protect him as he takes up the particular challenges given by Christ to St. Peter: ‘Feed my sheep,’ and ‘strengthen the brethren.'”

Added the bishop: “Pope Benedict XVI has the promise of my prayers, and the prayers of the entire Catholic community of Maine.”

Priests ‘excited’

The Rev. Gerald A. Levesque of St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Norway said Tuesday that Ratzinger’s election “was a total surprise. I did not expect him, because of his age, and, he is a very conservative man.”

Levesque wanted a non-European chosen to lead the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics.

“I was hoping that the new pope would be someone from the Third World, from South America, to continue that push to acknowledge the Third World as becoming a center of Catholicism,” he said.

Levesque also said he was surprised at the speed of the election.

“I was expecting it to go on to tomorrow,” he added.

The Rev. Angelo Levasseur differed a bit.

Pastor of Catholic churches in Rumford, Mexico and Dixfield, Levasseur said the election of Pope Benedict XVI was quick, but he also feels the new pontiff will fit well with the conservative leanings of Catholics in Africa and Latin America.

“He’ll be very much attractive to the Third World countries,” he said.

He’s also pleased that a new pope has been chosen.

“I feel secure that we do have a leader now. I’m excited. He (Pope Benedict XVI) was very close to Pope John Paul II. That’s reassuring,” he said.

“I’m excited,” said the Rev. Richard Senghas of St. Rose of Lima Church in Jay. “He’s a very experienced man” he said of Ratzinger, “and those who have dealt with him directly have commented on his humility and personal warmth. We’re excited and looking forward to the future.”

Staff writers Eileen Adams, Terry Karkos and Donna Perry contributed to this story.


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