Hardline Catholics got their man Tuesday, when the College of Cardinals elected its dean, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the 265th pope.
Soon after the white smoke appeared from a Sistine Chapel chimney—at about 5:50 p.m. Italian time, 11:50 a.m. on the East Coast of the U.S.—a cardinal announced to the throng gathered in St. Peter’s Square that Ratzinger was the pick, and that he would take the papal name of Benedict XVI.
Ratzinger had been considered a strong but perhaps not strong enough candidate at the outset. He had made a high-profile push for declaring the previous pope, John Paul II, a saint in the days immediately following his April 2 death.
Something of a liberal at the beginning of his career, Ratzinger is generally considered to have been a driving force behind several of the Catholic Church’s strictest and most social divisive moves in recent years. In particular, he has held the line on homosexuality, women’s ordination, and the vein of progressive thinking known as liberation theology.
Going into the secret conclave, many observers wondered whether the cardinals would seek a kind of compromise figure, but that was not to be. Ratzinger secured the necessary two-thirds of the vote, from the 115 cardinals, in only the second ballot on the second day of voting.
Ratzinger, 78, made his first appearance shortly after the white smoke and ringing bells signaled his election. He gave his first blessing as pope to the cheering crowd. The new pope called himself “a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord” and said he was consoled that “the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means.”