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Pope’s departure leaves Rome burning
The following editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News on Monday, Feb. 11.
Monday’s announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he would step down on Feb. 28 was nothing short of historic.
The last time a pope resigned was 1415. Europeans were still decades away from setting foot in the New World and giving birth to what would, six centuries later, become the church’s biggest population base.
Considering today’s globe-hopping demands, Benedict recognized that he no longer has the mental and physical stamina to lead his church’s 1.2 billion faithful.
It took courage for him to acknowledge so publicly the realities of human aging in a way that none of his predecessors did.
Benedict was elected to the papacy at age 78, following the April 2005 death of his highly popular predecessor, John Paul II.
There was no question from the beginning that, at his already advanced age, Benedict would be hard-pressed to meet the heavy demands of state visits, international travel and celebrating outdoor Mass before hundreds of thousands.
He made clear early on that his reign would be shorter than John Paul’s 26-year pontificate.
Under Benedict, the church has grappled with mounting clergy sex-abuse scandals.
Much of Benedict’s work involved sweeping pedophile priests from the church and disciplining archbishops and cardinals who failed to act when the abuses came to their attention.
The pope fell short of meeting victims’ expectations of justice.
But, true to his promises upon his ascension, Benedict brought greater conciliation and succeeded in diminishing the scandal’s headline-grabbing character.
Just a few weeks ago, the pope nodded to modernity by adopting a Twitter handle (@pontifex). He now has 1.5 million followers.
Benedict’s decision to step down offers the College of Cardinals an unusual opportunity to plan ahead for the succession and approach the upcoming conclave with a clearer vision of what papal attributes would best serve the church’s worldwide population.
The office has historically been dominated by a Eurocentric worldview.
Even after John Paul’s death, there were growing calls within the church for his successor to be something other than another light-skinned European.
Today, Europe’s Catholic population is declining and far outnumbered by the ranks of faithful in the developing world, particularly Latin America. Africa is on a track to equal Europe’s Catholic population sometime in the next decade.
Central Africans, in particular, can benefit from the influence of a pope capable of persuasively defending religious liberty amid growing persecution of Christians by Islamist hard-liners.
According to church belief, the conclave’s succession decision ultimately is swayed by divine guidance.
But it is clear that real-world politicking weighs heavily in the vote.
If Benedict, at age 85, is willing to adapt and tweet his way into modernity, perhaps the College of Cardinals should step away from old-style European dominance and give a nod to the church’s modern demographics.