Joseph Ratzinger is entitled to his Catholic conservatism, his theological rigidity and his opposition to religious relativism. It is up to Catholics to internally debate his traditionalist views on a series of social issues. They already are, even before the applause has died down over his election as Pope.
It is not up to us to dictate what Catholics should believe and who they pick as leader. Otherwise, the secular idea of freedom of religion ceases to have meaning.
Rather, the relevant issue for the world is: How will Pope Benedict XVI be different from his predecessor in dealing with other faiths and nations?
It is only half correct to say he will follow John Paul II's traditions. He clearly would on conservative theology. But would he continue the papal outreach to others around the globe that we have been blessed with in the last quarter of a century?
John Paul spoke up for the poor, affected by globalization and unbridled capitalism.
He stood by the oppressed, including the Palestinians, whom he addressed in Bethlehem: "No one can ignore how much you have had to suffer in recent decades. Your torment is before the eyes of the world, and it has gone on too long ... Only with a just and lasting peace - not imposed but secured through negotiations - will legitimate Palestinian aspirations be fulfilled."
He believed in the United Nations and multilateralism, which is why he was emphatic in opposing the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Much of the commentary of the last 48 hours has been about Cardinal Ratzinger's belief in the superiority of Catholicism.
It strikes other faiths as "chauvinistic and triumphalist," in the phrase of Rabbi Michael Lerner, of the American magazine Tikkun. It offends Anglicans and other Protestants.
But don't most believers, regardless of religion or denomination, believe, to a degree, that they alone possess the truth?
More instructive is Ratzinger's approach to one of the bigger issues of the age: relations with Muslims and Islam. John Paul - the first pope to pray in a synagogue, visit the Wailing Wall and call anti-Semitism "a sin against God" - was also the first pontiff to enter a mosque, open a dialogue with Muslims, condemn Islamophobia and urge Catholics to join Muslims in fasting on the last Friday of Ramadan.
Ratzinger, however, has reservations not only about outreach to Muslims but Islam.
"The rebirth of Islam is due in part to the new material richness acquired by Muslim countries, but mainly to the knowledge that it is able to offer a valid spiritual foundation for the life of its people, a foundation that seems to have escaped from the hands of old Europe," he wrote last year.
One can read that as a statement of admiration. But, juxtaposed with his concern regarding his flock in Europe, it may not be.
It fits the pattern of thinking of some conservatives who speak of the increasing presence of Muslims in Europe in the same breath as the decline of Christianity on the continent. That implies the two are related, which they are not.
The "culprit" is secularism, and, in the case of Catholics, the Vatican's social conservatism, which the faithful ignore.
Blaming Muslims is cheap politics.
Ratzinger has long wanted Europe to rediscover its Christianity. That's understandable. But he crossed the line last year in opposing the entry of Turkey into the European Union.
"Turkey has always represented a different continent, always in contrast with Europe," he told the Paris newspaper Le Figaro.
That is disturbingly close to the racist notion that Muslim Turkey cannot be a part of Christian Europe. The ignorance of that sentiment is stupefying, for several reasons: The continent is no longer Christian alone; Christian majority nations do not constitute Christian states, and opposing Turkey on religious grounds makes a mockery of Europe's self-admired secularism, even if that is of little or no concern to the Vatican.
We will have to wait and see whether Pope Benedict XVI will distance himself from Cardinal Ratzinger. One of the legacies of John Paul II was that he helped end the Cold War. Will the new Pope fan the war being waged by neo-conservatives and fundamentalist Protestants against Muslims and Islam, or will he help diffuse it?
I think they chose this Pope however to deal with the declining church attendance in Europe. Pope John Paul blamed secular humanism... I think this Pope will do the same...