NEW YORK – The selection of Pope John Paul II's (search) right-hand man to lead the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics means little will change in the direction taken by the church, analysts and experts said Tuesday.
Pope Benedict XVI (search) will lead the faithful in much the same fashion as John Paul — strictly adhering to conservative principles adopted by the church on topics such as birth control, inter-religious dialogue and homosexuality. The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (search) of Germany and John Paul II were commonly referred to as "intellectual bedfellows."
"If they want to send a message to the whole world that the church is united in its perennial teachings ... then they picked the perfect man," said the Rev. John T. Zuhlsdorf of the Catholic Online Forum (search).
Before being elected to the papacy, the 78-year-old Ratzinger was named by John Paul II in 1981 as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (search). The goal of this office was to promote and safeguard the doctrine of the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.
"This will be a traditional pope you know, he will certainly embrace some of the old traditions," Zuhlsdorf said. "He has been, shall we say, overseeing that the teaching of the truth all throughout the world has been in keeping with the church."
FOX News correspondent Greg Burke, who has been stationed in Rome as a papal expert, said Ratzinger's job as John Paul's ally was often "holding the line" on rules and doctrines of the church.
"There wasn't a lot of wiggle room and there shouldn't be in that office," Burke said. "But I think the election of Cardinal Ratzinger is less that the job he had than the continuation of the John Paul II papacy."
Ratzinger delivered the homily at Pope John Paul II's funeral last week and this week, as cardinals on Monday prepared to enter the conclave, he urged them to cling to church tradition and warned about the dangers of abandoning it.
"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism," he said. "Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and 'swept along by every wind of teaching,' looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards."
He added: "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."
Father Jonathan Morris, vice rector for the Legionaries of Christ (search) and a FOX News analyst, said relativism is a common theme of Ratzinger's recent teachings.
"What Cardinal Ratzinger is saying is, 'if I say something that is truly contradictory to what you think, one of us is wrong. It's dangerous to go down the road saying no matter what you think, you're OK,'" Morris said. "Cardinal Ratzinger is saying, 'you can respect the person but it doesn't mean he's right."
Msgr. James Lisante of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Long Island, N.Y., stressed that Ratzinger believes that "truth is not relative."
"He's not going to water down ... teaching of the church's truths … this is not a great departure [from John Paul II], just through a different prism," said Lisante, a FOX News papal contributor.
Ratzinger's blunt judgments and strict line on Catholic dogma have pleased conservatives and outraged liberal Catholics.
Ratzinger was archbishop of Munich before taking over as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981. In that office, he has cracked down on liberation theology in Latin America and denounced sexual liberalism in the West. In 2000, his document, "Dominus Jesus," (Lord Jesus) angered Protestants by saying their churches were "deficient."
Ratzinger's orthodoxy has earned him several nicknames, including the Enforcer and Panzerkardinal, a German neologism that compares the Bavarian-born prelate to a battle tank.
"We're going to have some real issues of difference between this new holy father and the church in America — that's OK, that happens," Lisante said. "He's not here to win popularity contests."
In his early years as head of the CDF, Ratzinger tried to stamp out vestiges of liberation theology, a current of Catholic thought born in the 1960s that emphasized grassroots organization to free people from poverty. Liberation theology's association with Marxist groups and revolutionary movements appalled both John Paul II and Ratzinger.
Ratzinger has also fought against trends in ecumenism that suggest that Catholicism is but one of many ways to salvation. He's also called homosexuality an "intrinsic moral evil."
In more recent years, Ratzinger has taken on social and scientific trends that he says attack the natural order. At one public debate in Rome, he likened cloning to "weapons of mass destruction," while at the height of the sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests in the United States, Ratzinger blamed the uproar on a media conspiracy.
"I am personally convinced," he said once in an interview, "that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the U.S., is a planned campaign."
And in a July 2004 letter to Catholic bishops on women, Ratzinger criticized forms of feminism that made women "adversaries" of men. He wrote that the blurring of sexual identity had "made homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent."
Many observers agree that Benedict XVI will be a powerful voice in the Vatican.
The new pope "always has been a presence" in workings of the high-level Catholic leaders, one American priest in St. Peter's Square told FOX News. "When Cardinal Ratzinger is in the room, when he's making a contribution ... he brings a different tenor to everything, so it's just a tremendous moment for us.
"John Paul II is a hard act to follow but now with Cardinal Ratzinger — Benedict XVI — it's just a new exhilaration."
Added Burke: "I think Ratzinger is someone who knows what he believes and is not afraid to say it."
As for those who have characterized Benedict XVI as perhaps being more of a transitional pope because of his age, Lisante said think again.
"Let's not be writing him off as a transitional pope," he said. "This man could be our pope for the next 10 to 15 years … he may have a very powerful influence for a long time."
FOX News' Rick Leventhal and Chris Wallace contributed to this report.