New Pope

New Pope
Alessandro Speciale 03-12-2013

The American cardinals aboard the bus to Monday’s General Congregation. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

As the Vatican prepares for the opening of the conclave today to elect a new pope, officials announced that the personal secretary of former Pope Benedict XVI will return to Rome for the first time since Benedict’s resignation on Feb. 28.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed on Monday that Gaenswein will be one of the senior Vatican officials to take part in the solemn procession of cardinals into the Sistine Chapel that will open the conclave on Tuesday afternoon.Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, who was Benedict’s closest aide when he was pope, moved with Benedict to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo when the retired pope left the Vatican on Feb. 28.

His presence will once again highlight the unprecedented situation — and potential complications — of having a retired pope still living just as cardinals gather to elect his successor.

Alessandro Speciale 03-12-2013

The Sistine Chapel, where the conclave is taking place. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

As if the task of choosing the Vicar of Christ and the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics wasn’t daunting enough, the voting must also take place under the gaze of Michelangelo’s brilliant but imposing frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

That’s what the late Pope John Paul II decreed when he rewrote the conclave rules in 1996, and so it shall be starting today — and for however many days it takes the 115 cardinal-electors to choose a successor to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who retired last month.

In the Sistine Chapel, “everything is conducive to an awareness of the presence of God, in whose sight each person will one day be judged,” John Paul II wrote in his 1996 Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis,” which regulates papal elections.

RNS photo by David Gibson

A poster of Pope Benedict XVI on the streets of Rome. The conclave will begin on Tuesday. RNS photo by David Gibson

VATICAN CITY — Amid all of the prognosticating about who the cardinals could choose as the next pope in the conclave that starts here on Tuesday, one reliable thread has emerged: the desire to elect a pontiff who can be a pastor to the world as well as a taskmaster to the Roman Curia.

Finding such a combination in a single man, of course, may prove difficult if not impossible, which adds to the almost unprecedented level of uncertainty surrounding this papal election.

So if anything is possible, some say it might be better to reverse the prevailing wisdom — look for a pope who will talk tough to Catholics (and the world) while shepherding the Curia with a firm hand in order to better police the wayward.

The prospect might appall progressives and others who were happy to see the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, but it has enough appeal to conservatives that they are trying to make the case.

One reason for their sense of urgency is that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger turned out to be more of a papal pussycat as Benedict XVI than the watchdog of orthodoxy that he had been for decades while serving under John Paul II.

Is now the time for a pope who could be more of a Ratzinger than a Benedict?

VATICAN CITY — The conclave to pick a new pope will begin on Tuesday the Vatican said on Friday, resolving an open question that had dogged the cardinals meeting here over the past week.

The cardinals will celebrate a special Mass “pro eligendo Romano Pontifice” — for the election of the Roman Pontiff — in St. Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday morning, and in the afternoon the cardinals will enter into the Conclave, the Vatican said.

The date was set by the cardinals gathered in a late-afternoon session on Friday. They were scheduled to vote on the decision, but there was no word on how many supported the Tuesday start date or how many preferred an earlier or a later date.

In one of his last acts before resigning on Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI amended the law regulating papal elections to allow cardinals to move up the beginning of the conclave, which would normally not be able to start until at least 15 days after a pope dies or leaves office.

Because Benedict resigned — the first pope to do so in 600 years — and announced his plans on Feb. 11, the cardinals did not have to focus on a funeral, as they did when John Paul II died in April 2005. They also have had nearly a month to think about a successor.

As a result, many believed the cardinals did not need to wait long after Benedict’s resignation took effect to begin the conclave itself.

Interior of the Sistine Chapel. Photo courtesy RNS / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

In Catholic theology, as in the popular imagination, the closed-door conclave to elect a new pope is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

There’s no horse-trading or lobbying, no insider deal-making or outside influences allowed. Just red-robed cardinals solemnly entering the Sistine Chapel, accompanied only by prayers and their consciences, sitting beneath Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment and discerning God’s will on who should be the next successor to St. Peter.

At least that’s the theory. The last millennium has shown that papal elections can be fraught with politics or worse, and can take months or even years of wrangling to reach a resolution.

Reporters listen as cardinals speak to the press in the Vatican Tuesday. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Tensions among the Roman Catholic cardinals meeting here to choose a new pope appeared to escalate on Wednesday as the American prelates in Rome canceled their daily press briefing under pressure from colleagues who are frustrated over news coverage of their secret talks.

The cardinals also announced that they still had not been able to agree on a start date for the conclave, in which 115 electors will cast their ballots for a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

The effort to control the flow of information from the daily pre-conclave “General Congregation” meetings marked a sharp reversal from the unprecedented openness that had characterized this first papal conclave of the digital age.

Cardinals at the papal conclave in April 2005. Photo courtesy Rostislav Glinsky/shutterstock.com

“In the church,” Chicago Cardinal Francis George once said, “everything has happened at least once!” That’s no surprise given that the Catholic Church is a nearly 2,000-year-old institution that has adapted to radically different epochs.

But electing a new pope while the former pope is still alive? That’s rare.

So what are some other firsts and lasts, quirks and facts of papal history that you should know? There are plenty, and Religion News Service has compiled a handy guide.

Alessandro Speciale 03-05-2013

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley celebrates Sunady Mass on March 3, 2013. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Roman Catholic cardinals on Monday met for the first of a series of closed-door meetings in the run-up to the conclave that will elect the successor to former Pope Benedict XVI.

But as cardinals filed into a Vatican conference room under the gaze of dozens of cameras, church officials said 12 voting prelates still haven’t arrived in Rome, pushing back the possibility of an early start to the conclave.

Vatican City at night, Vladimir Mucibabic / Shutterstock.com

Vatican City at night, Vladimir Mucibabic / Shutterstock.com

The Vatican appears rocked by scandalous rumors and resignations just as church leaders must gear up to replace frail Pope Benedict XVI with a closed-door conclave.

But Vatican experts say if you think the world’s largest nongovernmental institution is in unprecedented chaos right now, think again.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano presents the papal fisherman ring to Pope Benedict XVI at the new pope’s installation Mass. The fisherman’s ring bears an image of Peter, his boat and his net, which figure in two Gospel accounts of miraculous catches of fish. Benedict said that while fish die when removed from the sea, “in the mission of a fisher of men the reverse is true.” 

“Have you ever heard of the Borgias?” quipped professor Terrence Tilley, chairman of the theology department for Fordham University in New York. They were the larcenous, adulterous, murderous, election-rigging, Renaissance-era family of renaissance popes “who ran the papacy for decades like a private fief.”

For all the sex, money, and power headlines wafting out of Rome these days, at least no one has been murdered. Infighting and innuendo, though, are ancient traditions that have moved into the bright lights of the 24/7 news cycle and social media.

Alessandro Speciale 02-27-2013
Pope Benedict XVI. RNS photo courtesy Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict XVI. RNS photo courtesy Gregory A. Shemitz.

In his final public address, Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday forcefully defended his decision to resign while trying to reassure Catholics still reeling from the shock of his unprecedented move.

For the first time since his stunning announcement on Feb. 11, the 85-year-old pope explained at length his decision to become the first pope in six centuries to resign. His tenure officially ends Thursday at 8 p.m. local time.

Benedict admitted that his resignation is a “grave” and “novel” act but, he added, his choice had been made “with profound serenity.”

“Loving the church means having the courage to make difficult, agonizing choices, having ever before oneself the good of the church and not one’s own,” he said.

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