What does it mean for the developing world?The emergence of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the top of the Catholic Church is not so surprising. In fact, it could not have been otherwise, by all accounts. For months, his name had been circulating as the main contender in the quest to replace the late John Paul II. When his name was announced, Catholics around the world received the news with mixed feelings. In catholic-heavy societies like Mexico and Brazil, the news was rather shocking, for these two South American countries represent a substantial portion of the church’s one billion worshipers; and there were high expectations that the new pontiff would have come from that part of the world. It was wishful thinking. With the coming of Ratzinger, Vatican intended to send a clear and unequivocal message to the world— especially the developing world—that it will retain at all cost its ideological influence. I am a Catholic by birth, and my children have received their first communion within the church. However, I have to admit that taking my children to church every Sunday has more to do with their social formation rather, than preparing their faith in accordance to Catholicism. My attitude toward the church seems to be no different from that of millions of other worshipers. For more than forty years, a major battle has been waging between two major factions within the church: The ultra-conservative wing headed by the Vatican political establishment and the liberal theologians, based mainly in the third world, who see the only way the church dwindling attendees could be stopped and reversed is by aligning with the oppressed masses in their effort to win social justice and fair distributions of their country’s wealth. Since the opening salvo, however, one can only count few successes from the liberal camp. In the early nineteen sixties, the arrival of Pope John XXIII (1958-1963), replacing Pope Pius XII and Paul VI (1963-1978), the Vatican establishment caved in to social upsurge by introducing far-reaching changes in religious practice. Through the Vatican Second Council, for instance, changes in Catholic ritual allowed the conduct of mass in communities’ native tongue, gave bishops and the laity better role in church affairs, and toned done Church dogmas. But if these changes helped to polish, somewhat, the Church image in the developing world, in industrialized societies of Europe and North America, they did not seem to help at all. As people’s social and economic statuses improve, their interest in the Church diminishes. Latest studies show that, apart from Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Catholic Church has suffered a steady decline in church attendance. In some communities, parishes had to be closed down. The coming of Ratzinger to the papacy, an ultra-conservative with strong ties with Opus Dei, which never hides its blatant hatred for separation of church and state, one of the pivotal points of democratic principle, signals that a major acceleration is underway in Ratzinger’s self assumed role as enforcer of Church doctrine. The new Pope has already signaled that Vatican will continue unabated its policy of intervening in political affairs of other nations, using controversial flashpoints like the issues of abortion and homosexuality to engineer powerful social bases for right-ring reactionary parties worldwide. These ultra-conservatives’ main aim is to reaffirm the Church over civil authority, to use their theocratic ideas to influence right-wring politicians and their political parties in order to rollback most, if not all of, the democratic gains achieved during the last hundred years and, finally, attack with all their might what Ratzinger himself calls, “the dictatorship of relativism.” After twenty-six years working as John Paul II chief enforcer, Joseph Ratzinger had enough time to craft his own ascendance to the papacy. Our new German shepherd needed no self-contrition to overcome his rivals. Going in to the Conclave, he had already mastered all that he needed to win, including the powerful Opus Dei and Communion and Liberation. Opus Dei, founded by Josemaria Escriva in 1928, never gathered more than 80,000 followers worldwide, according to most experts—including the influential Vatican newspaper Salvatore Romano. Nonetheless, Escriva’s influence over the fascist Spanish government of Fransisco Franco and all right-wring Spanish governments that followed, Aznar’s included, was just sufficed for John Paul II to elevate him to sainthood, just twenty-seven years after his death. Communion and Liberation, which has strong ties with the Italian business and political establishment, was the other pillar that backed Ratzinger. According to Los Angeles Times, Ratzinger’s win over the Communion and Liberation came after a strong sermon he delivered during the funeral of Monsignor Luigi Giussani, the founder of C&L, last February in the presence of the most influential figures of the Italian conservative elite, most noticeably, Italian Prime Minister, Sylvio Berlusconi. One can explain why it was Ratzinger, not Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the archbishop of Milan, that presided over the funeral mass for the late Pope. Ratzinger had other major backings, according to the Washington Post. Among them were Julian Herranz of Spain, head of the Vatican’s department for interpreting legislative texts, Dario Castillon Hoyos of Colombia, head of the department in charge of the clergy and Alfonso Lopez Trujillo of Colombia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. While the conservatives have been so busy, consolidating their grip over the moral order, they have also been very busy suppressing descents, banning liberation theologians like the Swiss Hans Kung, Brazilian Leonardo Boff, Peruvian Gustavo Guttierez, Nicaraguan Ernesto Cardenal etc… So how does Vatican intend to revamp the church? No one knows for sure. But the coming years will be crucial. It’s hard to see how the Church will be able to sustain its controversial policies through Evangelium Vitea, which leads the drive to interpret all form of sexual mores, while rejecting abortion and all other form of contraception. The Evangelium Vitae dictates that any sexual acts not designed for reproduction is immoral. Even using condoms is unacceptable—something that, by all accounts, proves to be inhumane and socially destructive, knowing the ripple effect the AIDS epidemic has on millions of people in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and in many other parts of the world. So, is Ratzinger our new savior? L’avenir dira le reste. (The future will tell.)Ardain Isma, Ph.D.