Pope’s resignation, speculation on a successor, have local Catholics talking
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The Rev. Larry Chapman, pastor of St. Peter's Church in East Troy, said Pope Benedict XVI's resignation and successor will have a trickle-down effect on parishes.
Spoiler alert: if you're sitting in the pews at Mass this Sunday at St. Peter's Catholic Church in East Troy--and maybe a number of other churches as well--Pope Benedict XVI's resignation will undoubtedly be part of the homily.
"I suspect that I will work into this Sunday's homily—(this Sunday being) the observance of the First Sunday in Lent--something about this major religious event," said the Rev. Larry Chapman, pastor of St. Peter’s Parish.
The pope's announcement on Monday, given at a gathering of cardinals, was something of a bombshell, given that the last time a pontiff resigned was 600 years ago.
"I can certainly say I was as surprised as anyone in or out of the church," Chapman wrote in an email referring to the resignation announcement. "People talked more about the possibility of a papal retirement toward the end of Pope John Paul II's papacy, but not as much in recent months with Benedict XVI. Such an option was briefly mentioned from time to time in some Catholic periodicals lately, the likelihood of which no one was willing to speculate. I personally wonder if Benedict's serving with John Paul II when his failing health had become so obvious for so long a period of time was a factor in his prayerful consideration."
David Simmons, assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, said age and health were significant issues considered when Benedict XVI was elected in 2005.
Simmons noted Benedict had already had health concerns and sought retirement prior to the election.
"Only five popes in history were older at their election and only three popes lived to be older than Benedict is now--in fact, he is already older than his predecessor was when he died, and people remember how frail John Paul II seemed toward the end of his papacy,” Simmons said in an email. “So I think the papal convocation that elected Benedict was well aware that his papacy would not likely be long, even if his resignation was a surprise.
"On the other hand, people are much more aware these days of the effects of aging and other factors on mental capacity, whose decline Benedict explicitly cited as a reason for his retirement. Neurological disorders are constantly being studied and reported on in the media--diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson's,…and the pope did suffer one or two minor strokes early in his papacy. Public awareness of these health issues may make his decision easier to understand for some, and could indeed be a consideration in the next papal convocation.”
Chapman said Benedict’s resignation showed a sense of deep humility about what he was able—and unable--to do in service to the church.
“Such humility must have been the primary motivation behind all that Benedict has done as pope, even if some actions and words have been controversial and even ill advised, such as comments about Islam or a reconciliation with Holocaust-denying bishops in the past year, or his apparent harshness with religious sisters here in the United State more recently," Chapman said.
The resignation has sparked interest in papal elections for many Catholics, including elementary school children. The Rev. Jim Schuerman, who serves as the pastor at both St. Andrew's Parish in Delavan and St. Francis de Sales' Parish in Lake Geneva, said students in the parish school where he teaches religion peppered him with questions this week over the news.
"The children were just very alert to the changes, the process of electing a new pope, asking who did the voting and such," he said. "I think this energizes Catholics and brings on a little bit of excitement."
Speculation on the pope's successor--and where he will come from--has also grown.
“The next pope will have to balance the globalized church with the confrontation of the liberalizing tendencies of modernity,” said Simmons. “Where the new pope comes from might say a lot about the direction of the church in the coming decades.”
The professor said potential candidates being discussed include Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the former archbishop of Quebec, who now holds a high-ranking position at the Vatican, and Cardinal Angelo Scola, another Vatican insider who was appointed archbishop of Milan by Benedict in 2011. Two other possible candidates are from Africa, which Simmons said “would be a first in about 1,500 years,” Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, who was also considered a top candidate when Benedict was elected.
“So if this is indeed the ‘short list’ of candidates, the likelihood of an African pope is relatively high,” Simmons said.
He said a candidate from the United States isn’t likely, although among the cardinals who will elect the new pope are 11 Americans, including Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, and three with Wisconsin ties: Cardinal James Harvey, born in Milwaukee; Cardinal Raymond Burke, born in Richland Center; and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the New York Archdiocese, who was archbishop of the Milwaukee Archdiocese (which includes Walworth County) from 2002 to 2009.
Simmons noted that both Dolan and current Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki have been in the news lately because of accusations by SNAP of protecting abusive priests.
Schuerman, however, thinks Dolan may be a contender.
"Years ago, if you would have asked me if there would ever be an American pope, I would have said no," he said, adding that the conclave of cardinals who vote in the papal election tended to avoid choosing popes from superpower countries such as the United States, but attitudes—and Catholic populations—are changing.
"I was reading today that 42 percent of the Catholic population is from Latin America,” Schuerman said. "We are a very diverse church, growing in Latin America and Africa, although we have declined somewhat in Europe. We have to really look very seriously at ourselves as a world church. We have to find our Catholic identify and admit that diversity. That's the real challenge today."
“The challenges facing the next pope remain largely the same since the end of John Paul II’s pontificate,” Simmons said. “None of the controversies surrounding Roman Catholic doctrine concerning abortion and contraception, the celibacy of priests, the exclusion of women and homosexuals from the priesthood, and so on have gone away, and the sexual abuse of children by priests is a crisis that continues to snowball as more and more records are released detailing the failure of church leaders to confront the issues, to put it mildly.”
"I'm sure people across the entire spectrum of Catholicism will be watching developments very closely, and that will be the first major effect this news has on the parish scene,” Chapman said.” In that way, it helps us identify with the larger, worldwide Christian community, seek the guidance of God's Holy Spirit more explicitly in prayer, and perhaps help us talk more about the real mission of Christ's disciples now in the 21st century--a great trickle-down effect on every parish.”