New pope's no pop-whiz, but knows the media

While Pope Benedict XVI has been compared to Darth Vader by Catholic liberals, the new pontiff’s association with showbiz seemingly stops there.

Besides lacking John Paul II’s persona and improv skills, 78-year-old former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is said to have an intellectual mindset that does not connect with pop culture the way his predecessor, a former actor, did.

But Ratzinger has enjoyed celebrity of his own. His book-length interview “The Ratzinger Report” — one of 22 tomes penned by the then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — was a bestseller in the ’80s. Several of these books, including the memoir “Milestones,” are being rushed into reprint by San Francisco-based Ignatius Press.

Word at the Vatican is that Ratzinger did not see Mel Gibson‘s “The Passion of the Christ,” nor does he have John Paul II’s passion for theater and cinema.

During his 24 years as chief enforcer of Catholic dogma, Ratzinger called rock music “an anti-religion vehicle,” but he is known to regularly play classical music, often Mozart, on a grand piano.

He’s just not John Paul II.

Indeed, during Benedict XVI’s first meeting with the press the new pope read scripted remarks for 15 minutes from a throne-like chair, far away from reporters, and then took no questions. Media-minded John Paul II, during the same audience in 1978, waded into the crowd and exchanged cordial quips with the corps for 40 minutes.

But that’s not to say Benedict XVI is out-of-synch with the media age. JPII’s savvy spokesman, Joachin Navarro Vals, continues to head the Vatican press office. And American archbishop John Foley is tipped to retain his post as chief of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which oversees Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center.

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