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Friday, 15 February 2013

From whence the next Pope?

I suppose one really ought to qualify that and say, from whence comes the next Roman Catholic Pope since there are a a couple of others, including the Coptic Pope based in Alexandria. I note that many in the media and on the 'social media' sites are expressing the hope that the next Bishop of Rome will be more liberal and actually allow some changes - like married clergy - to take place. Looking at who is being held up as possible successors, I would say their hopes are likely to be dashed. If anything the successor to Benedict XVI is much more likely to be an arch-conservative.

At present a number of names are being bandied about in the media, and I suspect, precisely for that reason, they are unlikely to be elected. Among those I have heard discussed are the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Pell, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Dolan, and the Cardinal Archbishop of Accra in Ghana. From Europe the name in the forefront is the Archbishop of Milan, but, as almost 70% of Roman Catholics are now outside of Europe, I suspect the urge to have someone from the Americas, Africa or somewhere else will be strong.

The choices are still fairly narrow. According to one source, 80% of the current College of Cardinals who will meet to elect the successor, were appointed by either Benedict XVI or John Paul II, neither of whom selected many from the 'liberal' side of their church. This, more than anything else, suggests to me that the next Pope will be a conservative and will, if anything, be even more so than the present one.

That said, there are now pressures building up both internally and externally, for change. Rome may be about to undergo a reformation whatever the flavour of the new Pope is. Externally the fallout of the pedophile scandal continues to rock the heirarchy and the trust placed in the clergy formerly has evaporated. I'm told that a Roman priest wearing his clerical collar in certain parts of Dublin today would be inviting a beating - and not from any Protestant element either.

Since Benedict's reign began there have been moves to roll back the 'open' ideas of Vatican 2, and drag everything back to the 16th Century exclusivism. Benedict states openly that the Lutheran Church is not a 'Church' but a 'movement' a renegade branch of the Roman Church, a stance to Lutheran's resent and deny. He also argues that the Anglican's have no 'priests' (I note he acknowledges their Bishops and Deacons) and therefore, in his view, no 'valid' Eucharist, since they 'make no sacrifice at the altar in the Eucharist.' I would argue that neither do any Roman priests. We, like they, commemorate Christ's sacrifice, an offering made once for all, in the Eucharist. Our 'sacrifice' is our offering of the bread and wine and our worship. The origins of the Eucharist, as Benedict well knows, is the 'friendship offering' described in the Old Testament and still made by Jewish families each Friday evening.

His successor will come under increasing pressure to acknowledge the validity of other branches of Christianity. Though he may continue to resist these, he will not be able to ignore the external pressures from the politicians around the world who will increase their demands that Rome accept the rule of secular laws in every country. This was one of the things which led the English to reject Rome in the 1530s - clergy refused to place themselves under the rule of the King or the English legal system. Routinely their misdemenaours - and there were many chronicled - went unpunished because Rome refused to allow justice to be done. Even in recent times murderers have gone unpunished because Rome has insisted on the 'Seal of the Confessional.' To be fair, on that, the priest is duty bound to urge the confessing person to turn themselves in - but we cannot know whether they ever do.

There will be pressures to allow married clergy, and there will be demands for great lay involvement in determining the future direction of the church. There will be demands for the inclusion of women in priestly roles in line with the secular world. Rome will not be proof against lawsuits for discrimination either.

How Rome will respond will depend on who is elected. If the next Pope comes from Africa, do not expect any liberalisation, in fact the opposite. I do not know any of the other candidates except by reputation - which suggests they are arch-conservatives who will be reluctant to allow any change. They will, however, be sensitive to the political pressures they face in a manner the African Cardinals will not be.

We are promised that there will be a new Pope by Easter. We can but wait and see. For all of Christendom, I pray the next Pope will have the sense to know that Rome must accept the validity of the other branches of Christianity and work with them to build the Church Christ would recognise. At present Rome seems, publicly at least, to regard everyone else as non-Christian heretics to be suppressed or 'converted' while ignoring the wider problem of the growth of Islam and the threat that poses to every Christian community.

We shall see what emerges from the Conclave even now being prepared.

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