The past few years have been rough for the Vatican. Marked by scandal after scandal, Pope Benedict XVI has announced his resignation effective by the end of February. With the impending Conclave, a French-Canadian Cardinal may be the best option for the next pope – or not.
Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, was known as one of the most progressive Popes in history. This is in part for his recognizing the legitimacy of evolution and helping to bring the Catholic Church into the modern era. Pope Benedict however was seen as a somewhat more conservative leader than his predecessor. As the Church came under repeated fire for abuse scandals around the world, many found that Pope Benedict did not take sufficient action to right the wrongs of the past. Leaders from around the western world have expressed surprise over his resignation – the first since the 13th century – especially considering these extremely troubled times for the Church.
On the other hand, the Church is also not blind to the consequences that its lack of action has brought. Many of the main candidates come across as being much more liberal than the outgoing Pope, and definitely much more progressive. The youngest of them, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines, has even openly criticized the Church’s lack of action and reluctance to own up to the failings of the church in the past few decades. The archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, is said to be focusing on outreach to the Muslim world – something certainly relevant today. It’s not surprising that the Church is also considering the possibility of there being an African or Asian Pope as the number of Catholics has been dwindling in the northern hemisphere, while Catholicism has been on the rise in Africa and Asia. Scola is also considered to be one of the favorites with bookies. However, betting odds based on who is a friend with who in the conclave isn’t the only thing to think about here.
Cardinal Luis Antonio is not alone in his critical attitude towards the shortcomings of the Church. In an open letter by Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet in 2007, the Québec born cardinal confessed and expressed his regrets that there has been times when Anti-Semitism, racism, a blatant disregard to homosexuals and First Nations groups, as well as a lack of regard to social issues like women’s voting, was the general rule of the Church instead of the exception. If we look at his ranking with the bookies, there is a real possibility that Marc Ouellet could become the first Canadian Pontiff. Although Statistics Canada has shown the Catholic Population to be in a general decline (especially here in Quebec), we do still have a significant Catholic Population. And Canada has a good international reputation as a culturally diverse, well balanced peacekeeping nation. Making us a Pope-creating country surely couldn’t hurt our international reputation.
Of course, there are some blemishes on our local hero’s resume. For one, he is hardly the most charismatic of speakers. The New York Times described him as being about as entertaining as a monotone stats lecturer. Furthermore, Cardinal Ouellet has the presence of mind to understand the importance of the position – to the point that he’s said that it would be a “nightmare” to be Pope and that he does not particularly want the position or intend to campaign for it. While it gives him credit for not being power-thirsty, this may raise concerns that he might one day put in his own resignation if he were to make it to the Papacy.
Unfortunately for us Canadians, despite the fact that Ouellet might be the current favorite for the next Pope, Cardinal Tagle might be the better option. Ouellet definitely understands the importance of the job, and more importantly understands where the Church has come from and where it needs to be heading. A Church under his leadership would surely show some much-needed social progress. But the likelihood that he might one day resign like Pope Benedict should make the College of Cardinals nervous. This lack of stability would be more damaging to the image of the Church to in the long run, ultimately. World leaders like stability. If a new Pope is being elected every few years when the regular reign is over a decade, it could hurt the Vatican’s international relations.
The Church needs someone to bring long term stability with progressive views and they need some young blood in their veins. They need someone like Cardinal Tagle, who has that same appreciation for the flaws of the Church, but with the youth and readiness to create change that will allow the Roman Catholic Church to be seen as stable, but also progressive in a changing world.
– Andrew Calame
(Featured photo: Catholic Church (England and Wales), Creative Commons, Flickr)