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Benedict XVI tries to allay rigid papacy fears

Vatican City, April 20 (Reuters): Pope Benedict XVI moved swiftly today to allay fears of a rigid papacy that would turn its back on other faiths and cultures, saying he would work for dialogue both within and outside the church.

In his first public Mass since his election yesterday, German Joseph Ratzinger, 78, made an early effort to address concerns aroused by his past role as a tough doctrinal enforcer who harshly dismissed other Christian denominations.

The new Pope said he felt 'inadequacy and human turmoil' at his election, a choice that was welcomed by conservatives but caused consternation among church reformers.

'I welcome everybody with simplicity and love to assure them that the church wants to continue in open and sincere dialogue with them, in search of the true good of man and society,' he said at the Mass.

Sitting in front of Michelangelo's fresco of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel where he was elected, and dressed in white and gold vestments, the pontiff said he felt his predecessor, John Paul, was guiding him and holding his hand. 'I will spare no effort and commitment to continue the promising dialogue with other civilisations that was started by my venerable predecessors,' Benedict said.

The election, in one of the swiftest conclaves for a century, was widely seen as reflecting the cardinals' determination for continuity with John Paul's stern rule. The strict defender of Catholic orthodoxy for 23 years, Ratzinger has made clear in recent speeches that he will brook no dissent and will block debate on issues such as women priests, priestly celibacy, abortion and homosexuality.

Newspapers in Turkey expressed concern that the new Pope's past opposition to Ankara joining the EU because it is a Muslim nation could raise fresh obstacles to membership.

The election of one of John Paul's closest aides was greeted by a shower of congratulations from world leaders and delight from conservatives, but with deep disappointment among those who hoped for reform in the Catholic church.

There was also negative reaction from Protestants still smarting from a document written by Ratzinger in 2000 that dismissed their denominations as 'not proper churches'.

But Israelis and Jewish groups praised Benedict, saying he had atoned for his wartime membership.

Italian newspapers said the rapid conclusion of the conclave after only four votes suggested Ratzinger had exploited the momentum of his front-runner status before a more moderate wing could unite around one candidate.

The clear favourite before the conclave, he also confounded the Roman maxim: 'He who enters as Pope leaves as a cardinal.' Friends and colleagues said the world had yet to see the warmer side of a man who has been dubbed in the Italian press as 'God's Rottweiler'.

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