When German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the tabloid daily Bild gloated, "We're the pope." Nearly eight years later, it had the opportunity to write a novel headline on Thursday for another new pope: "An Argentinian is pope: The new hand of God." It's a reference to Argentinian football champion Diego Maradona, who famously scored a goal by using his hand during the quarter-finals at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City. In a country where Maradona is widely respected for his skills, it's by no means an unflattering comparison.
Wednesday night's election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope dominated German media coverage on Thursday, with papers exploring the background of Pope Francis , who chose his name as a tribute to St. Francis of Assisi, a man who gave up his wealth to live in poverty and preach. Some note that it's not an unfitting name for a cardinal who is known in Argentina as the "pope of the poor" for his modesty.
Editorialists generally give a welcome reception to the new pope. But there is one thread uniting many of the commentaries -- the idea that Francis, like his predecessors over the last 50 years, is something of a placeholder pope. At 76, he is unlikely to head the Holy See long enough to massively change it. But some are nonetheless hopeful that he can help provide a desperately needed modernization to the Catholic Church , which has seen its membership plummet in an increasingly secular Europe.
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"With his announcement that he would resign on Dec. 11 and his completely free resignation on Feb. 28, Benedict XVI sent shockwaves through the church, and the echo still hasn't died down. His revolutionary step has all the ingredients necessary to irreversibly change the understanding of the position of his successor -- and for the advocates of a demystification of the papacy this is just as welcome as it is terrifying for protectionists. By shedding his responsibility for leading the global church, Benedict also sent out an unmistakable message -- namely that the church needs to find new energy not only at the bottom, but also at the top."
"The election (of Benedict XVI's) successor was also intended to send several messages. The simplest was unmistakable even before the start of the conclave -- namely that the cardinals are largely united in their belief that the church is in need of a new beginning, in the organization of the Curia, the balance of power between Rome and local churches, and perhaps even the office of the Bishop of Rome itself. But the swift vote is also intended to show they do not consider the search for answers about the church's order to be more important than the message to the world in the form and words of a new pope."
"With the election of Bergoglio, they have sent a message of a new beginning, because this is the first non-European since antiquity, the first Latin American ever and the first member of a Jesuit order to lead the Holy See. Bergoglio immediately replied to this message by choosing a name that marked a new beginning in papal history: Francis."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The new pope is an interim pope, as all the popes of the last half century have been. There have been popes who were good decision-makers and bad decision-makers, but they were all interim popes. And many were even named as such at the time of their election, including the great Pope John XXIII (who served from 1958 to 1963), because people didn't entrust them to set the agenda in major ways. Even the last pope, Benedict XVI, was an interim pope, because after 26 years under Pope John Paul II, few could imagine that the man who was the mastermind behind the previous pope could actually begin any kind of new epoch."
"Even John Paul II, a Polish pope who was a world leader and great communicator, and whose role in the collapse of the Eastern Bloc cannot be underestimated, was just as much an interim pope as his unfortunate predecessor, John Paul I, who served only 34 days at the head of the Catholic Church. This is because their church was one in transition, and it still is today. It was Pope John XXIII who made this clear to the church with his epochal decision that it would become more dynamic and adaptive (to modern challenges). At the time the pope called it 'Aggiornamento,' or 'bringing it up to date.' John XXIII wasn't calling for 'resistance' against an allegedly 'hostile environment in modern societies,' as Benedict, who has already warned of a dangerous 'relativism' at work in demands for equal rights for women within the Church, recently did."
"Popes in recent decades may have undertaken grand journeys, but they have also sheltered themselves from the world and the problems of the faithful. There is one great expectation of the new pope, one that is crucial for a transition: He needs to build bridges to connect with the people -- from Rome to the rest of the world. After all, he's called the pontifex, which literally means bridge-builder."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"The fact is that the new pope has prosaic tasks ahead of him. He must remove reform deficits in the Vatican, professionalize the Curie, make things a bit more objective. Once he has the support of a Curie that is finally back in order again, he will be free to issue proclamations of the church's faith -- the job he is actually meant to be doing. He must remind people of the link between them, the church and Christ in a Europe where religion is growing increasingly alien to the people."
"That will be the true mission of this pope. He comes from a powerful church and he has to show the world, and not just the Europeans, the powers that lie in this joy in faith. Perhaps this unpretentious man will bring the fresh impetus that the church needs. What is most important here is trust in God and not the hierarchies (in the church) over which the Europeans have quarrelled so much."
Left-leaning Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:
"(Francis) is the first Jesuit (pope) and, more importantly, the first non-European for more than 1,000 years. … But, as with today's pope emeritus, former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his advanced age creates the impression that the aim was to find a transitional pope, (making it only) a halfway bold selection."
"The list of expectations for Francis is long. Curiously enough, the magic word that unites them is 'reform' …. Is Francis the right person for that? Initial judgments are notoriously fallible. Only those who number wind-making as being among the pope's core tasks can dream of fresh wind. One can't forget that the conclave was made up of 115 cardinals, of whom 67 were appointed by Benedict XVI and 48 by John Paul II. Their average age is 72. There are no revolutionaries."
"Reforms of many of the inherited traditions are not at the top of the new pope's agenda. Instead, there is strengthening the Catholic community and preserving its unity. If Francis succeeds, the faith … will be revitalized. In recent years, those representing the Catholic Church in all of their finery have often left the faithful cold. Whoever sought warmth found it at best in the faith itself. This Protestantization of Catholicism also unintentionally helped Benedict, the intellectual pope. With simple, endearing clarity, his successor will try to give new strength to (Catholic) teachings."
Business daily Handelsblatt writes:
"Over the many centuries, no pope has ventured to name himself after Francis of Assisi, a former merchant who relinquished his wealth to not only preach but also live a life of poverty. He was a rebel who almost provoked a schism in the Catholic Church."
"As a cardinal, Bergoglio also renounced privileges …. One can only hope that he also retains his attitude as pope and prescribes this course for the Catholic Church. It is only in this way that the church, which is losing ground across the world, can get near the people again. The Vatican, in particular, has distanced itself from the people too much. The scandals surrounding the Vatican Bank (have only made matters worse)."
"The (bank) will only regain credibility if Francis really cracks down and finally creates transparency, demonstrating that the church doesn't hide any secret accounts and conceal illegal flows of money."
"St. Francis was a revolutionary. The Vatican also needs a revolution today."