An extraordinary human being with a keen intellect and a great sense of integrity, honesty, compassion and wisdom.

This was how Mgr Charles J. Scicluna, a Promoter of Justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, yesterday described Pope Benedict XVI.

Contacted by telephone in Rome, Mgr Scicluna said there was great joy in St Peter's Square on the election of the new Pope.

"Yesterday, while going to work on the bus, I met a young priest who joyfully told me: 'I am a Ratzinger fan'."

When it was pointed out to Mgr Scicluna that the cardinals opted to elect a 78-year-old rather than a younger prelate, he said Cardinal Ratzinger was in a good state of health.

"The Cardinals did not want a long Papacy after that of the late Pope. They went for a short Papacy which is more or less 'the natural law' in such cases. One would need alternation.

"Although the Pope is German - he was Bishop of Munich - he has spent the last 23 years in Rome. His is an international perspective with his command of languages and his close connection with all the cardinals who met him as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith whenever they visited Rome to call on Pope John Paul II."

Cardinal Ratzinger is the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The other top three superiors of the congregation are the Archbishop's secretary Angelo Amato, the under secretary Joseph Augustin Di Noya OP and Mgr Scicluna, who was appointed to this post by Pope John Paul II on the advice of Cardinal Ratzinger.

Mgr Scicluna graduated as a lawyer from the University of Malta and continued his studies at the Gregorian University in Rome.

Saying that he does not know much about the private life of the new Pope, Mgr Scicluna, who has been at the Congregation for the past three years, said the cardinal is an immensely serious man who harbours a great love for the Church and who will give it a great sense of direction.

"He is an extremely cultured man who exudes courtesy and modesty. He is a lover of the arts and enjoys listening to music. In fact he is an accomplished pianist although I do not know whether he still practices."

Why did the cardinals not choose a South American to be Pope?

"Cardinal Ratzinger had a lot of bad press particularly from theologian Hans Kung. He was not expecting to be elected and, moreover, he was afraid of the burden that the post carries. The other cardinals knew him well."

But was this not in itself an advantage over the other cardinals?

"Without any doubt that is the case, but the same is true of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, who is the Vatican's top diplomat."

Is it possible that being a conservative, the new Pope might attempt to build a bridge with the liberals in the Church?

"His is a most open spirit and he is a good listener. We are in good hands. One should not exclude the possibility that he will try to unite the Church.

"The Church is in for a lot of welcome surprises," Mgr Scicluna said.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us