Catholic church, one year after pope's death

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Pope John Paul II's death a year ago -- April 2, 2005 -- left many Roman Catholics expecting that their church would take an even harder, more conservative line if the College of Cardinals picked early favorite Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as the next pontiff.

They got Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

While the Vatican's German-born chief orthodoxy watch--dog has confounded left and right through a handful of small yet significant changes that defy easy interpretation, Craig's clergy members believe firmly in the new pontiff's pastoral reign.

"He got a bad rap from his previous job [Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith]. He came across as a Rottweiler, but he did his job well, following the doctrine of the church rather than his own input," said Jose Saenz, priest at St. Michael Catholic Church.

Ever since his April 19 election, Benedict has maintained a consistent doctrinal tune, reaffirming church teaching on everything from sexuality to the sanctity of life.

"There's a misunderstanding of the pope. He's really a custodian of the faith. He can't change the faith, he can only interpret it," said James Fox, another priest at St. Michael.

"His most recent encyclical set the stage of an affirming and inviting message, getting back to what's essential."

Only a year into Benedict's papacy, many Catholics seek to understand the new pope by gauging his ability to continue the legacy of his hugely popular predecessor, John Paul.

"Pope John Paul II was so charismatic. With all the World Youth Days he got kids so excited," said Saenz. "Benedict uses the excitement he created to get people excited about the Eucharist, extending the message to evangelization."

Fox agrees with Saenz that despite critics' assertions that Benedict's initiatives have been unpredictable, mixed signals, the pontiff is continuing John Paul's work of projecting a positive, clear and affirming message in a tense and volatile world.

"[Pope John Paul II] was the universal pope, building bridges and helping Christianity to reflect what is unifying in all religions," said Fox. "Now Benedict is finding better ways to put forth the message, speaking up regularly with a dialogue in his approach between Catholicism and other religions."

Benedict's upcoming trip to Turkey will be a good indicator if this approach will garner the same worldly support as John Paul's and confirm Fox and Saenz's optimistic hopes.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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