Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will resign Feb. 28, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals Monday morning.
More than a few thoughts on this as the days go on, but here are my initial ones:
- It was time for Benedict to go and, to his credit, he recognizes that. I had always assumed that he would be a transitional figure, but he has managed to last nearly 8 years, which is a lot longer than most people would have guessed.
- There is a lot of speculation that the next pope will come from someplace other than Europe. I think this is quite possible, actually. I’ve been arguing for a number of years that the energy in the Church lies outside of Europe and that we could very well see a Pope from the Western hemisphere for the first time.
- Is it possible that there will be a pope from the United States? Maybe, but I’d be surprised. Timothy Dolan, who is the Archbishop of New York, is a possibility because he’s still fairly young, but I think there’s a better chance that we get a pope from Latin America. A better bet might be Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, currently the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. A few other candidates are listed here; the link suggests that the best bet might be Marc Ouellet, who is at the Vatican now but was previously the Archbishop of Quebec, which meant that he was essentially the head of the church in Canada. I think having a pope who comes from outside of the Vatican hierarchy would be a welcome change and Rodriguez Maradiaga would fit that bill.
- My hunch is that whoever the new pope turns out to be, he will turn out to be a crucial figure in the history of the Church. It’s difficult to hear this message in the United States, but the Church is gathering strength in many parts of the world. There’s been a mismatch for at least 30-40 years between where the leadership of Church resides and where the energy of the Church resides. If the next pope comes from someplace other than Europe, it will become clear that the Church has recognized this and taken steps to change things.
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