Why did the College of Cardinals make such a controversial choice, and with such dispatch? The simple answer is that the 78-year-old pope is a transitional figure. Barring a medical miracle, it is likely that a new pontiff will be elected in a few years. One need not be Machiavelli to suggest that potential popes sitting in the Sistine Chapel decided they did not have the votes or the standing to make it this time, and would use a Ratzinger papacy to prepare for the next.
Dionnes hopeful and urgent point is that Ratzingers age gives "moderate" and liberal Catholics the time and the occasion to prepare for something more than this short-term papacy by reasserting "Vatican IIs hopeful vision of a church that has much to teach the modern world, and much to learn from it, too."
Applebaum is thinking about the effect of this choice on European politics. Heres a snippet:
The advent of a German pope, who in fact shares many of John Paul IIs views, may well make religion part of the European political debate again, this time on the western as well as the eastern half of the continent. At the very least, a German-speaking pope will be hard for Germans to ignore.
This will be a debate worth watching, even if you arent Catholic or religious (and I am neither), because it will reveal much about the direction in which European politics is heading. It might also hold clues to the future of the battered, long-suffering transatlantic relationship. While many of the cultural differences between Europe and America are vastly overstated, the religious differences are profound. Its hard to be in politics in this country and not at least pay lip service to religion, as John Kerry can attest. In Europe, by contrast, political leaders who profess religious beliefs are derided.
Judging in purely human terms--the only terms I have--the non-Catholic Applebaum comes out looking better than the Catholic Dionne, who would seem to be closer to the European anti-clericalists than to the conclave. Both are political in their approach to this new Pope. At least Applebaum is aware that the politics involved is the the effect of the Churchs stance vis-a-vis the world in which it operates. Dionne wants this worldly politics to colonize the councils of the Church itself: a "new age Church" for a new age, so to speak.