The Rev. Joseph Fessio, a professor at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., who in the 1970s studied in Germany under Ratzinger, said, ''The reason they aren't excited is because his whole country has lost its faith. Get the stats on births, the number of abortions, the divorce rate. The place is a disaster. Catholic Europe is dying because it has lost its soul. And it is too lost to even know that St. Benedict gave it a soul and that the new pope, Benedict XVI, is Europe's last, best hope to restore that soul."
Winfried Roehmel, director of the press office for the Archdiocese of Munich, said that about one-third of Germany is nominally Catholic. But he said fewer than 13 percent attend Mass with any regularity.
''It is a very slow, creeping decay. When the sun is shining, as it has on Europe for so long since the war, people feel they don't need God," explained Roehmel.
In Ireland, amid the rapid change that has come with unprecedented economic prosperity in the past decade, few dispute the notion that the edifice of Catholicism is in danger of cracking along its foundation.
The Rev. Brendan Hoban, a priest in a rural parish in County Sligo and author of the book ''Change or Decay: Irish Catholicism in Crisis," said the country's economic gains have come at a cost.
''Material prosperity has struck us like lightning in the last 10 or 15 years," Hoban said. ''We are a modern and prosperous country, and many Catholics no longer find their faith useful."
''We have a tremendous challenge trying to fix that, to find connections, to forge liturgies that will draw people in, and to write our homilies in a way that we inform people about the world they live in," he said.