Monday, February 25, 2013

Papal Resignations! VIII

The chimney in the Sistine
Chapel that will signal the
election of the new pope.
Electing a pope while there is a living former pope is pushing the Church into unchartered waters.  Pope Benedict was expected today to approve rules permitting the opening of the conclave to be advanced from March 15, what had been the earliest possible date under existing rules.   As I mentioned in the February 16th posting, beginning the conclave on March 15th would probably throw the installation of the new pontiff into Holy Week—a time in which those Cardinals who are also residential archbishops need to back in their own dioceses.  But there is a problem in advancing the date, as that shortens the time the Cardinals have for the necessary discussions to discern what the Church needs in new leadership.
The critical situation in which the Church finds itself—and to which I referred in my last posting—is only highlighted by today’s announcement of the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien from his post as Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and his decision not to attend the conclave due to allegations that he is guilty of “inappropriate behavior” going back thirty years.  Several priests and a former priest have accused the prelate of unspecified actions, the implication being of sexual advances. 
The Catholic Church is in a serious crisis of credibility and it will take more than a new pope for it to face the challenges successfully.  Regardless of the Cardinals’ desire to be home in their own dioceses for Holy Week, shortening the time for the Cardinals to meet and discuss the qualities needed in a new pope is not a helpful strategy right now.  The Vatican Bank scandals, clerical misconduct, the pedophilia scandals, the abuse of power in the Curia, the challenges by the Lefebvrist schismatics, along with serious questions as to where the Church is going in ecumenism and interfaith relations, liturgical policies, role of women in the Church, the state of the Church in China, all require intense study and discussion by the College of Cardinals so that they can help set an agenda and then select the most suitable candidate to carry out the necessary reforms.  This is not a papal election like the election of 1958 or 1963 or the elections of 1978.  Work that should have been done in 2005 and was not can no longer be delayed.  Benedict did not create these problems and they were—for the most part—in place when he was elected.  Josef Ratzinger convinced the Cardinals that he was the man who could deal with the problems.  It turns out that he was not, as he himself now recognizes.  This time the Cardinals need to settle in and come to a consensus on what must be done before the situation becomes irreparable.  Only then can they discern who the right candidate is to face the challenges and bring necessary reform to the Church. 

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