The man on Tuesday elected pope, German cardinal Josef Ratzinger, was the chief architect of the Vatican’s war on homosexuality.
Although he was the favourite to be chosen by the cardinals’ secret conclave, many Vatican observers thought the ultra-conservative 78-year-old Bavarian was too divisive a figure to gain the required two-thirds majority.
However, he was elected on just the third round of voting.
Ratzinger, who has taken the name Pope Benedict XVI, had been described by some Vatican watchers as a kind of vice-pope under Pope John Paul II and was often called the enforcer, with sections of the German press referring to him as the panzer-cardinal.
He has been the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981.
Ratzinger was the author of the infamous 1986 Vatican document which referred to homosexuality as an intrinsic moral evil.
In 1992 he further angered gay rights activists with a letter to the American bishops supporting legal discrimination of gays and lesbians in certain areas such as adoption and employment in the military, and schools.
It is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, he wrote.
In this letter he also appeared to condone anti-gay violence, writing that if gays and lesbians demand civil rights, neither the Church nor society should be surprised when -¦ irrational and violent reactions increase.
Ratzinger was also behind the silencing of a range of Catholic theologians and pastoral workers for their views on homosexuality.
In 1986 the progressive archbishop of Seattle Raymond Hunthausen was partially removed from his duties following Ratzinger’s critique of the bishop’s supportive views on gay and lesbian ministry.
Ratzinger was also behind the more recent two-year investigation which put an end to the work of Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, founders of New Ways Ministry for gays and lesbians.
The controversial cardinal has also been an outspoken critic of feminism who last year issued a letter which accused radical feminism of promoting a climate of hostility between men and women.
Ratzinger’s views on women and homosexuality are indicative of his broader war against relativism and secularism.
He made headlines all over Europe late last year when in a wide-ranging interview with an Italian newspaper he said the Christian heartland of Europe was threatened by aggressive secularism, even an intolerant one.
These comments were prompted by the European Commission’s refusal to confirm Italian Catholic Rocco Buttiglione as Justice Commissioner because of his views on homosexuality and women.
In the lead-up to the conclave, a number of newspapers reported Ratzinger had been a member of the Hitler Youth and had served as a member of the German army during World War II.
His brother defended the cardinal’s wartime behaviour saying no resistance was possible.
However, Elizabeth Lohner, 84, from Ratzinger’s home town of Traunstein, whose brother-in-law was sent to Dachau as a conscientious objector, had a different opinion.
It was possible to resist, and those people set an example for others, she told the London Times last week.
The Ratzingers were young and had made a different choice.
Ratzinger is now a lot older and the world can only wait to see what choices he will make as Pope Benedict XVI.