Monday, 4 March 2013

The conclave’s challenge


The Irish Times carries the following editorial this morning [Monday, 4 March 2013]:

The conclave’s challenge

The cardinals are meeting in Rome this morning to prepare for the conclave that elects the successor to Pope Benedict XVI. Of the 24 cardinals being talked about as papabili or potential popes, 10 have held senior positions in the curia and seven are Italian. Already, the odds appear stacked against any cardinal who does not offer more of the same. But is it too much to hope that the next pope will offer a challenging vision for a compassionate church?

In his final public audience last week, Pope Benedict thanked members of the Curia for their support but also hinted at dysfunction at the heart of the Vatican. His acknowledgement that, at 85, he is no longer able to carry the burden of office has caused some to question whether anyone can successfully lead a global church with a monarchical structure so apparently unmatched to today’s world. But the man chosen to lead the world’s more than one billion Catholics must be more than an energetic administrator capable of reforming the church’s leadership. He must be a visionary who can draw on the essential message of the Gospels to make the church more welcoming and dynamic.

Few expected Cardinal Angelo Roncalli to be an agent for change when he became Pope John XXIII and called the second Vatican Council. Half a century after the council closed, many now hope that the new pope will recover the conciliar or collaborative vision of the church ushered in by Pope John and Vatican II. The age, background and ethnicity of the next pope may be less important than having what one theologian has described as the ability to read the signs of the times.

In a troubled world, the new pope must care for the suffering, the impoverished and the oppressed. He should be willing to listen with charity and understanding to the divorced people turned away at the altar; the couples using contraception or IVF treatment; the distressed teenagers who have abortions; the people abused in childhood who feel they are neither heard nor believed; the priests forcibly laicised at marriage or silenced for mild criticism, yet yearning to exercise their ordained ministry; the women who feel they may have vocations but go unheard because of their gender; and the same-sex couples wishing to have their love affirmed.

In an increasingly secularised world that is antipathetic – if not antagonistic – to the claims of the church, the new pope needs to have a humble and penitent heart. If he is willing to listen to a grieving and broken world, to the voices on the margins, open to dialogue with potential ecumenical partners, hoping to heal the wounds of those hurt by the church and hurt in the world, then he may begin to recover the credibility and authenticity lost in the half century since Vatican II came to a close.

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