EDITORIAL BRIEFS COL As has often been stated in recent days, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has huge shoes to fill.

Pope John Paul II was a charismatic leader. He was likable and had a human touch buttressed by untiring dedication to peace and to improving the lot of the less fortunate around the world. Even those who disagreed with his strict doctrinal stances often couldn't help but admire and love John Paul II.

Now comes Benedict XVI, cut from much the same cloth as John Paul II. Both came of age in the horror of World War II. Both rose quickly through the ranks of the Catholic Church. Both men are strict conservatives on matters of church doctrine. Like John Paul II, Benedict is fluent in several languages, and is regarded as a brilliant theologian. Those who know him well also say he is capable of the same warmth of personality as his predecessor.

The doctrinal issues are for discussion between lay Catholics, their bishops and their pope. For the rest of the world, the greatest service of Benedict XVI would be to continue John Paul's crusades to break down barriers between people of different religions, to ease the burden of the oppressed and dispossessed, and to urge an end to war.

Even John Paul II, with all his gifts, was not entirely successful in those efforts. That is the magnitude of the challenge facing Benedict.



; Judges protect everybody's rights

Last week, opponents of gay marriages rallied on the state Capitol steps. This comment is not about gay marriage, but about the diatribe one of the rally's speakers made against federal judges.

Tony Perkins, spokesman for James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" organization, said essentially that the main political woes facing America can be traced to the courts and judges. He does not understand the old saying, "What goes around, comes around."

If he had his way, Perkins would eviscerate the judicial branch of government. He fails to realize that it is the courts and the Constitution that will someday protect his rights as a Christian to practice religion as he sees fit.

Today the Republican Party, currently in the majority in Washington, solicits support from groups such as "Focus on the Family."

As political fate ebbs and flows, at some future point Republicans will be in the minority. It is equally probable that groups like "Focus on the Family" will not always have the ear of a majority party.

It is possible that the time will come when federal legislation of some sort will be passed that religious groups find threatening. Should that happen, it will be federal courts and federal judges that will cite the Constitution and its protections for freedom of religion as a reason to overturn a threat to religious freedom.



; Washington ignores energy issue

The U.S. House has passed an energy bill that does little to move the country's energy policy out of the 20th century.

While the bill would help Minnesota farmers by expanding ethanol production, it does precious little to shift reliance away from fossil fuels. Expanding daylight saving time, for example, is a cosmetic change that is typical of Washington's tendency to pretend there is no long-term energy problem.

The House bill will do nothing to ease high gasoline prices. In fact, it guarantees those prices will rise by maintaining our reliance on oil.

The best hope is that the Senate will continue to reject the House thinking and will instead pursue a more enlightened energy policy.

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