Pope, Outgoing and Incoming

Pope, Outgoing and Incoming March 4, 2013

Somewhat belatedly, I thought I would offer some reflections on the current situation.

I was surprised and somewhat saddened by Pope Benedict’s resignation. Sure, I was a little skeptical when Ratzinger was first elected, fearing a divisive papacy. But I soon realized that Benedict was not the second coming of Pius X, but rather a pope who understood that truth was built on a firm foundation of love rather than suspicion. This key can be found in the titles he chose for his encyclicals – “God is love”, “Love in truth”. So I warmed to Benedict quickly, and was blown away by the beauty and insightfulness of his writings. He was able to draw me in, in a way that John Paul was not.

I came to especially appreciate his encyclical on the economy, Caritas in Veritate, which took traditional Catholic Social Teaching and added whole new layers of depth and insight. In some respects, this theologian in his 80s showed greater understanding of the problems and pitfalls of the modern global economy than many of the best economic minds. I also loved Benedict the person – the shy, retiring, humble introvert who did his best to adapt to the limelight, even though he never seemed entirely comfortable with it. In this sense, his resignation fits the mold – it displays great humility coupled with enormous inner strength. He is sending a clear message – it is never about the self or the ego, but rather Christ and the Church. In other words, he is living out the theology is spent a lifetime preaching – the “we” comes before the “I”, even if the “I” is the Vicar of Christ. I, for one, will miss him.

But what comes next? In a week’s time, we might well know the identity of the next pope. Lots of people are listing the various contenders, and totting up the assets and liabilities on each side of the ledger (one person’s asset could be another’s liability of course!). But I think that, above all, we need a pope who can address the area where Benedict was weakest – internal Church governance. It has become clear that parts of the Church have been tainted by cronyism and even corruption. I realize that this is not new, but the modern world demands greater accountability and transparency, and to be seen as credible and effective in its mission, the Vatican must deliver.

Much of the problem can be traced to the culture of clericalism and deeply-embedded deference to authority. So we need more accountability. I would like to see the next pope clean house with the Curia and demand the highest standards of probity and professionalism. He must do what Benedict seemed unable or unwilling to do – drain the swamp.I would also like this accountability to be applied to the world’s bishops, especially those who have been tainted by the abuse scandal. Surely Cardinal Keith O’Brien will cast a long shadow over the conclave, and tainted men like Cardinals Roger Mahony, Bernard Law, and Sean Brady will cast shorter ones.

This is one area where I was really disappointed by Benedict, despite some very positive early signs – such as taking on Maciel in spite of his strong backers within the walls of the Vatican. Benedict didn’t do enough to support courageous bishops like Diarmuid Martin, or even his friends like Christoph Schoenborn. And the bishops in the United States still have not come to grips with the failures of so many within their own ranks, and instead are hunkering down in an overly-defensive posture that I believe is already proving counterproductive. So openness, engagement, optimism, and humility are the key qualities I am looking for in the next pope. I only hope the Holy Spirit agrees!

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  • Ronald King

    MM, One problem with being an introvert, if one does not understand the characteristics and strengths of introversion, then she/he will present with a somewhat passive approach to interpersonal relationships and conflict resolution due to a heightened sense of vulnerability in human relationships. What may appear to be humility may be a symptom of being burned out and feeling overwhelmed with the intrusion of a toxic environment and not knowing how to assertively act to stop the chaos and decrease the toxicity. Being uncomfortable with attention is normal for an introvert but it also exhibits that she/he has not resolved the feeling of vulnerability associated with being introverted.

  • Julia Smucker

    The irony, as you name “deeply-embedded deference to authority” as part of the problem at the Vatican, is that a wise exercise of authority will be needed to reform the Curia.

    You make a fair and basically even-handed assessment which I don’t take issue with; I just want to avoid the impression that the blame for problems of clericalism and corruption lies with authority per se.

    At any rate, my impression is that your concerns for what the next pope must deal with are broadly shared among the cardinals.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Towards the goal of greater transparency and openness, I would make two modest suggestions (modest in the sense of Jonathan Swift):

    1) That the new Pope hire a chief of staff who is not a cleric. There must be any number of Catholic lay men and women who have experience as a chief operating officer (the corporate analog), or as a provost or chancellor (academic analog) who could come to oversee the organizational operation of the Vatican. Such a person could bring a wealth of organizational and personnel management experience that few clerics could match, and would be free of the entanglements that long service in the Vatican would have created. With such a lieutenant the Pope could concentrate on broad policy questions and be free from worrying about how to make his ideas a reality.

    2) The new Pope should hire a major accounting firm to conduct a forensic audit of all Vatican finances. The Moneyval analysis of the Vatican Bank was a good first step, but it almost certainly did not get into an analysis of cash flow through various divisions and offices. A good forensic audit will trace every Euro and would be very revealing about power and corruption in general. (As the French would say, “Cherchez le femme.”) Indeed, given what I know about Italian bureaucracy in general, I think a serious audit, backed by the authority of the Pope (and overseen by a determined chief of staff) would lead to a number of discreet resignations and transfers.

    • Ronald King


    • Jimmy Mac

      As someone wrote elsewhere, we need another Jesus Christ with an MBA.

  • Kerberos

    A very interesting article. Remarkable timing, too: apparently one of the problems here in Scotland is cronyism:


    “So we need more accountability.”

    ## Accountability ? I can’t imagine anything less likely – accountability goes counter to the culture, and can be regarded (rightly or not) as a denial of several doctrines. A hierarchy that is slow – in the US or anywhere – to appreciate the of molestation by the Church’s ministers in particular, seems vanishingly unlikely to understand the need for accountability.

    The hierocrats have never liked being jockeyed by others into taking action. Which is human, & completely understandable, but (given the structure of the CC) requires of them an insight & sensitivity & willingness to amend what is wrong, that it would be utopian to expect. They prefer to be the ones who take the initiative.For them to be required to be accountable, wounds the corporate ego of the Church – which is already pretty raw from the turmoil of the last 50 years. And there is the celebrated “thinking in centuries” to reckon with. If ever the hierarchy accepts the need for accountability (which is a priori unlikely in the extreme) it will (on previous form) happen only when they can do so without seeming to capitulate to the wills of others. So: maybe in a few hundred years’ time – not in our lifetimes.

    I see no reason for hope whatsoever – but maybe that is why one should hope.

  • Your enthusiasm for Benedict XVI Ratzinger’s pontificate is absolutely incomprehensible to me; his was the most disastrous of modern ones, and it is going to lead to one of the most ferociously antagonistic conclaves since those of the Renaissance and the Counter-Reformation:


    I wouldn’t be surprised if Easter comes without a pope in place. And the “Barbarians” of this article MUST win, if the Church is to be saved from the paedophile-protectors and the money-launderers.