Skip to main content

Huge challenges await next pope

By Kevin Clarke, Special to CNN
updated 11:02 AM EST, Tue February 12, 2013
Pope Benedict XVI waves in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican in December 2012. Benedict, 85, announced on Monday, February 11, that he will resign at the end of February "because of advanced age." The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415. Pope Benedict XVI waves in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican in December 2012. Benedict, 85, announced on Monday, February 11, that he will resign at the end of February "because of advanced age." The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.
HIDE CAPTION
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kevin Clarke: Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign caught papal watchers off-guard
  • Clarke: But canon law allows papal resignation; it's tradition that popes reign till death
  • Benedict said a pope is obligated to resign if he can't handle duties
  • Clarke: Whoever is chosen will deal with huge challenges facing Catholic Church

Editor's note: Kevin Clarke is the associate editor of America magazine, a national weekly published by the American Jesuits that reports on issues surrounding Catholicism, including news, book reviews, the arts and opinion.

(CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign caught a lot of Vatican watchers, apparently even some in his inner circle, off-guard. They should not have been so surprised.

Canon law includes a provision for a papal resignation. But traditionally, popes continue their reigns until their natural deaths, much as a father can never "resign" from his place in a family.

Before he was pope, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict watched an increasingly frail Pope John Paul II struggle to shoulder his many responsibilities and respond, in his final years, to the scandal of the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the United States and Europe.

Kevin Clarke
Kevin Clarke

Another reason it is not a shock: In Peter Seewald's "Light of the World," a book-length interview with Benedict, the pope was unambiguous about his openness to the idea of papal resignation.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Too tired to go on, Pope Benedict resigns

Yes, a pope could resign, Benedict said. "If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign."

And by some accounts, Benedict made three pilgrimages to the tomb of Pope Celestine V, who resigned from the papacy in 1294.

So what comes next? Presuming that this pope's resignation follows the same protocol as the death of a pope, all major decisions and pronouncements will be on hold after Benedict's reign ends February 28. The See of Peter will be vacant -- officially "Sede Vacante."

Watch Pope Benedict XVI resign
Abuse by priests mars pope's legacy
Pope Benedict's influence will linger
Who will be selected as the next pope?

During the vacancy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See's camerlengo, Italian for chamberlain, takes charge with the help of three cardinal assistants.

To prevent forgery, Bertone will break the pope's fisherman's ring by hitting it with a small hammer, a tradition that was started when the ring was used to seal documents. Benedict's apartment will be sealed to prevent any hijinks with official documents.

Opinion: Why pope will be remembered for generations

Bertone will organize a conclave of 118 cardinals, who must meet in Rome within 20 days of the end of Benedict's reign to deliberate on a successor. White smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel's chimney will indicate a selection.

Guessing who that selection might be, one of the church's favorite spectator sports, has already begun among papal watchers worldwide.

Among the "papabile," or possible contenders, are Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, which would return the job to an Italian; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former archbishop of Quebec; Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which would be a nod to the African church's growing numbers and influence; and Joao Braz de Aviz of Brazil, indicating a liberating take on the church in the future.

The Pope's resignation, explained

How about Cardinals Donald Wuerl or Timothy Dolan from the United States? They are outside contenders. The rest of the world thinks Americans are super-powered enough already.

Whoever is chosen will face the many challenges that Pope Benedict has no doubt wisely decided he no longer has the stamina to address, including:

• The growing secularization and antipathy of the West.

• Violence and intolerance visited on Christians in Islamic nations like Pakistan, Egypt and Syria.

• The evaporating Christian presence in the Holy Land, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

• More brutal revelations of clerical sexual abuse in Africa and Latin America, which have yet to adequately confront the problem.

• The ongoing priest shortage.

• Plummeting church attendance.

• Growing calls for optional celibacy.

• Persisting demands for women's ordination and more.

Is there somebody out there who really wants this job?

Surprising standards for next Catholic leader

Perhaps now, with confidence that a new precedent has been set and an actual well-deserved retirement would not be completely out of the question, someone will be courageous or foolhardy enough to step forward. And in an oddity of church tradition, that person need not be a cleric, only a baptized male. So if you are, feel free to submit your application to the College of Cardinals.

Meanwhile, let us pray whoever is the next pope is also equipped with compassion, mercy and vision.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kevin Clarke.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT