By Julie Muhlstein and Scott Morris / Herald Writers
Many Snohomish County Catholics, aware of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as a strict enforcer of church doctrine, on Tuesday welcomed his election as Pope Benedict XVI.
“Cardinal Ratzinger is coming from a position as a safeguard of the faith, that was his responsibility,” said the Rev. Paul Koenig, pastor of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Stanwood.
“Obviously, there will be elements in the universal church to label him conservative,” Koenig said. “Those labels can be divisive.
“This person we’re just getting to know, it’s my impression he is a gentle, humble pastor, and known to be brilliant,” Koenig said.
In the 1980s, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger’s reach extended to the Archdiocese of Seattle. In a 1985 report for the Vatican, Ratzinger chastised then-Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen for not upholding church teachings on homosexuality, divorce, contraception and other issues.
Hunthausen was stripped of some authority. In 1987, Bishop Thomas Murphy became Hunthausen’s assistant, and in 1991 when Hunthausen retired to Montana, Murphy became archbishop. He later died of cancer.
At Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy High School southeast of Everett, principal Kris Brynildsen-Smith said she got to make the announcement of the new pope twice on Tuesday.
In the morning, she surprised students at an election assembly. At a Rotary Club lunch, she broke the news again. “I stood up and in my best Latin announced that we had a pope,” she said.
Asked about her school’s indirect connection to the new pope, she said, “I think that everyone had some reservations how that was going to play out.”
Murphy dispelled many of those concerns, she said, by valuing Hunthausen’s contributions while fulfilling a disciplinary role.
Ratzinger’s role as “keeper of the doctrine, made him somewhat the head policeman,” Brynildsen-Smith said. “It will be interesting to see if, as the Holy Father, he will demonstrate a different persona.”
For one German Catholic, the new pope is a dream realized. “It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, I’m still overwhelmed,” said Elizabeth Traut of Stanwood.
Traut came to Canada in the 1950s from her native Munich, in Bavaria. Ratzinger is also Bavarian. “I didn’t allow myself to think he would become pope,” said Traut, who still has family ties in Bavaria.
Traut expects having the pope as one of their own will help some Germans draw closer to the church. “I think he’ll be a good man to follow the great John Paul II,” Traut said.
“He’s a stalwart for the church right now,” said Matt Zuanich, a deacon at Immaculate Conception Church in Everett. “We need someone like him to say, ‘This is the way it is’ and to try and overcome all the problems the church is going through – the pedophiles and other problems.”
Zuanich, ordained as a deacon in 1978, said he knew got along with Hunthausen, though he didn’t agree with his liberal philosophy.
“I still think there’s some animosity there,” he said of the crackdown on the Seattle archdiocese. “I’m sure some are disappointed. I’m elated. I think we need this.”
“I think it’s an excellent choice,” agreed John Sullivan, director of music and several ministries at Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Perpetual Help churches in Everett. “He is probably one of the greatest theologians of modern times.
“Basically, his job was to answer challenges to the orthodox teachings of the church. The pope has to present the truth, and present it with love,” Sullivan said. “I think Pope Benedict will be able to do that.”
“I think that what we need to do is give this guy a chance, no matter what your church politics are, whether you’re conservative, liberal or middle of the road,” said John Clapp, a theology teacher at Archbishop Murphy High School.
Clapp believes that with the choice of Ratzinger, the cardinal electors were saying, “We need grieving space before we get another superstar.”
Recent events have certainly livened up his classes. None of his students were alive in 1978 for the last papal election.
“This is a church history teacher’s dream, because, my gosh, we’re living history,” Clapp said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or firstname.lastname@example.org