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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