For the first time in over 600 years, a Pope has chosen to step down and resign from leadership of the Catholic Church. Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI spent his last day as a leader, greeting and thanking thousands of parishioners at what would be his final appearance as Pope, just before giving his farewell speech at the Vatican. He had announced his resignation two weeks prior. The former Pope will temporarily spend the early months of his retirement at the papal palace in Castel Gandolfo, and will continue his legacy going by the name of Pope Emeritus, as well as just Benedict XVI.
Former Pope Benedict XVI’s surprising decision was brought with lots of mixed criticism, mainly amongst the amount of controversy that has spilled from the Vatican in the recent years, specifically the widely known sex abuse allegations, which have marred the church for over a decade.
Now billions of Catholics around the world await for a new Pope to succeed leadership of the church. What are Catholics expecting in a new Pope? Pope Benedict’s reign led just fresh into a host of abuse claims towards priests, created a difficult period for any Pope to lead. Amidst it all, there were even more controversial abuse accusations placing the leadership under pressure and scrutiny. As a result, some respected veteran priests were defrocked, alleged coverups and settlements were made, and there were claims of harassment by the victims. While the Catholic Church still stands despite a scandal that could’ve destroyed the entire church, will a new Pope help change the image of Catholic Church to the world, or was the permeation of damage so strong that it no longer matters? And what are Catholics looking for the church to solve in regards of their image?
Being one of the oldest and largest religious organizations in the world, the setbacks the Catholic church has experienced won’t simply disappear just yet. In spite of the extremely rare resignation, that itself was brought with speculative rumors of homosexuality rumors among top clergy at the Vatican. How does the church reform from here? One of the best solutions the papal conclave can make right now is the advantageous opportunity to elect a new type of Pope, one that the world has never seen before.
The names of some papal candidates currently rotating around the blogosphere and media outlets have been met with interesting discussion. There has never been an black African Pope, nor has there been an American one, but the names of Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the U.S. have been named as early favorites. The possibility of them succeeding Benedict XVI is early speculation, but either nomination would create history as there has never been a Pope of either race or nationality. The likelihood of a Pope of Italian or European descent is far more possible, however it’s really the belief of the new Pope that will dictate how the Church can, and will, evolve. The Catholic Church has stood firmly against homosexuality, abortion, and birth control—three of many political issues I have more favorable positions on—and many practicing Catholics have also professed these liberal beliefs. The Vatican remaining conservative won’t change that, but will leniency towards these subjects help the image of the church and it’s members? Or should the church be applauded for maintaining it’s ideologies? I say a little bit of both. A Pope displaying a neutral stance on ideals the church disagrees with would look disobedient. How would a disobedient Pope look in the eyes of parishioners who expect him to follow the doctrines and lead? On the contrary, I would expect a very mixed response to a neutral position, right before the Pope is accused of being unfit.
As the world progresses and long-standing social issues see new and expected changes, the Papal Conclave 2013 is one the world will have their eyes on. But no— the deciding Cardinals do not have to feel pressured or expected to elect someone whose views don’t fall in line with Catholic beliefs. Though I doubt a ‘somewhat liberal’ Pope will be elected anytime soon, a Pope willing to discuss social issues without conservatism is long overdue. There needs to be an honest discussion on homosexuality, stronger disciplinary action and investigations against accused priests and corruption. Discussing these topics doesn’t mean abandoning the origins, but rather creating a sense of security and confidence in members conflicted with themselves and religion.
This nomination is one I especially have my eyes on as I come to terms with my faith and personal belief in Catholicism.
A new Pope is expected to be elected by mid-March.