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Swift surge helped Pope

Vatican City, April 21 (Reuters): Pope Benedict acted to preserve the legacy of John Paul today as details emerged of how he swept to an overwhelming victory in a secret conclave.

Benedict ' a close doctrinal ally of Pope John Paul ' made clear on the third day of his papacy that he would stick to his predecessor's conservative policies when he confirmed top posts at the head of the Vatican government.

The cardinals' vote for German Joseph Ratzinger, John Paul's doctrinal enforcer for 23 years, showed they wanted continuity and rejected a reformist change of course.

As Benedict XVI settled into power as head of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, interviews and leaks from conclave cardinals made clear that he had built up strong momentum even before the election began, outmanoeuvring moderate opposition. Ratzinger went into the conclave on Monday as favourite but many Vatican experts felt he was too divisive and too old, at 78, to win. They expected an alternative to emerge.

One of the swiftest conclaves in a century suggested he instead decisively consolidated his position in the first three voting sessions before winning in the fourth on Tuesday. Italian newspapers, considered to have the best inside track on events inside the secret meeting, agreed that Ratzinger garnered well over the two thirds, or 77, votes he needed from the 115 voting cardinals.

The votes reflected the desire by the princes of the church for an uncompromising and capable leader to face the myriad challenges of the 21st century.

Several cardinals suggested that a key factor in Ratzinger's election was his skilful administration in the period after John Paul died on April 2 and his reputation as a tough and uncompromising defender of traditional doctrine.

'Cardinal Ratzinger was a possibility right from the beginning. His was a strong presence. He was the dean of the sacred college (of cardinals), he made the address during the funeral, he delivered the homily at the (pre-conclave) Mass,' said Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.

'We all felt that he was one of our brothers with superior qualities,' he told the Rome daily La Repubblica.

The cardinals were also worried that a long conclave and extended vacuum would worsen perceptions of a divided church.

Ratzinger's homily at a Mass immediately before the conclave began was seen by some Vatican experts as almost a stump speech that further solidified support behind him. In his homily, Ratzinger told cardinals they must defend traditional doctrine and reject modern trends and ideologies.

This struck a deep chord not only among the 115 cardinal electors, all but two of them appointed by John Paul, but with traditionalist Catholics who see Benedict as the right man to defend the Church.

'The Church has found its man once again. I don't think there was anyone else in the Sistine Chapel that equalled him as a theologian, a pastor and a man of great intuition,' said Spanish Bishop Cipriano Calderon Polo.

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