From todays Times
Citing advanced years and infirmity, Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Roman Catholic world on Monday by saying that he would resign on Feb. 28 after less than eight years in office, the first pope to do so in six centuries.
We will have to have sabutai check to see if anyone predicted this, though I do remember rumblings on BMG back when the Belgian abuse scandal really hit the fan that he may resign. His has been a mixed tenure, marked by a dramatic (and in my view welcome) return to more traditional liturgical language and devotions and a small but noted revival of the Church in Western Europe. It has also been marked, as many critics I am sure will mention, by an inept and at times simply tone deaf response to the growing abuse crisis, fractured relations with the Anglican church and Jewish groups due to priest poaching on the one hand and the controversial reinstatement of a banned anti-semetic religious order on the other. At the end of the day Joseph Ratzinger, the man, was a brilliant intellectual and passionate theologian. He has written countless books, two stand out to me. The first Jesus of Nazareth was a concise and simple biblical and theological study of the role of Christ as logos within Chrisian theology and is a great read for any practicing Christian and for non-Christians intrigued by the intersections of neo-platanism and Christianity. Another and far denser read was a series of discourses between him and noted secular philosopher Jurgen Habermas on the role of religion in the public sphere. These works show that Ratzinger, the man, was a brilliant and collegial professor, always civil and polite with his opponents including progressive Catholic like Hans Kung and “Nuns on the Bus’ social activist Simone Campbell. But unfortunately Benedict XVI, as Pope, did not have the leadership skills needed to take the Church into the 21st Century and react to the abuse crisis, and today’s decision may be a recognition that its time to return to the Academy, where he was always far happier, and place the burden on a younger man’s shoulders.
The discussion of who is and isn’t papabile (aka electable) will surely dominate the news in the next couple of weeks before the expected March conclave.
This site has a good breakdown of potential candidates.
This site tells us why Boston’s own Cardinal Sean’s chances are significantly diminished due to his beard.
My hope is that Cardinal Scola or Scherer, have the greatest potential to be another progressive reformer like Paul VI. Scola is the Archbishop of Milan, a diocese that has had a vernacular Milanese Rite distinct from the rest of the Latin Rite for several centuries and has always been a bit more reform oriented. Both John XXIII and Paul VI were archbishops of that diocese before being elevated to the Papacy and both were instrumental in liberalizing the church through the Second Vatican Council. Scola’s age and known association with liberation theology in the past may make him less of a favorite with the conservative majority in the Curia but if he gets the backing of the Italians as their candidate he could be a player. Scherer would be the first Pope from the Global South, an area that is expanding rapidly for the Church, and would be a moderate conservative charismatic in the mold of John Paul II with a greater capacity for reform. He has certainly been promoting economic justice during his tenure while also remaining a hardliner on social issues.
I am less enthusiastic about Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Montreal for his outspoken opposition to homosexuality and abortion, but he seems a more papabile candidate as of late. Schonborn endorsed birth control and questioned clerical celibacy while also saying inflamming remarks about Muslims, he would also be the second German speaking Pope in a row and is seen as a ‘little Benedict’ so its unlikely he will have many allies. One Cardinal not mentioned is Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria who supposedly got a significant number of votes at the last Conclave, he would be a dramatic step backward for the Church, as would his Filipino colleague Cardinal Tagle due to their pre-Vatican II beliefs.
We will have to see and it will be an interesting time for the Church. And in case anyone is wondering I’ve started happily attending an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian church this year, and intend to keep going there. Its liturgically traditional and theologically liberal which is how I like it. I suspect the next Pope will have the opposite combination.