Who’s in the Running for Pope? 12 Names to Watch

St. Peter's Basilica Dome, David Carillet/

St. Peter's Basilica Dome, David Carillet/

Pope Benedict XVI’s sudden announcement that he would resign by the end of the month took the church and the world by surprise, in large part because it was a move without precedent in the modern world.

But what comes next is as old and familiar as the papacy itself: Speculating about who will succeed to the Throne of St. Peter.

Indeed, within months of Benedict’s own election in 2005, church insiders and online oddsmakers were trying to figure out who might be next, given that Benedict — now 85 — was already aging,  increasingly frail, and had himself declared that he did not expect his reign to be a long one.

So what will happen when the world’s cardinals gather before the splendor of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope? Who are the “papabile,” as the Italians say, the “pope-able” cardinals?

Will the conclave make the epochal break with the European monopoly and pick a cardinal from Latin America or Africa? The Catholic Church is booming in the Southern Hemisphere, as opposed to Europe and North America, where it is on life-support or barely treading water.

Church of England OK’s (Celibate) Gay Bishops

Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock

Praying priest with rosary in his hands. Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock

CANTERBURY, England — The Church of England on Jan. 4 confirmed that it has dropped its prohibition on gay clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops — but only if they agree to remain celibate.

Speaking on behalf of the Church’s House of Bishops, Bishop of Norwich Graham Jones said in a statement: “The House of Bishops has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate. There had been a moratorium on such candidates for the past year and a half while the working party completed its task.”

Jones added that the bishops agreed it would be “unjust” to exclude gay men from becoming bishops if they were otherwise “seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline.”

Bishops, Families, and Advocates Meet with Congressman to Protect Poor

Photo: People before Politics, Stephen Smith

Photo: People before Politics, Stephen Smith

On Monday, three West Virginia bishops joined by families and advocates pressed the state's politicians to protect poor and working families — or, in other words, the “least of these” — during budget battles in Washington.

The budget and tax negotiations are complex and important. They're driven in large part by the expiring Bush tax cuts and steep across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in if Congress does not act.

Congressional Republicans have been demanding deep spending cuts in programs, including Medicaid and Social Security. They've also defended tax cuts for the wealthy. A number of religious figures say those priorities are backwards.

Felicia Thomas, 24, director at Fort Hill Child Development Center, spoke at the meeting. Thomas is a single mother of a five year old little girl. Federal programs like Earned Income Tax Credit and child care subsidies have allowed Thomas not only to pursue her dreams of a better future, but also to keep the lights on and the fridge stocked.

Catholic Bishops Fail to Agree on Statement on the Economy

BALTIMORE — A divided Catholic hierarchy on Tuesday failed to agree on a statement about the economy after a debate that revealed sharp differences over the kind of social justice issues that were once a hallmark of the bishops’ public profile.

The defeat of the document, titled “The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times,” followed an hour of unusually intense debate among the 230 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting. It left many of them openly frustrated that the prelates have not made a joint statement about the nation’s economic woes four years after the recession hit.

“This document is dead,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said with obvious disappointment as he brought the gavel down on the debate after it failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

Is There a Political Plan B for the Bishops?


Bishops arrive for a meeting of Roman Catholic Church leaders at the Vatican. ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/GettyImages

As the bishops gather in Baltimore this week for their annual meeting, they like everyone else in the country will be talking about last week’s election. The U.S. Catholic bishops took a beating at the polls. Not only was President Obama reelected, despite their attacks on him, the bishops also lost on state referendums on same-sex marriage.

Like all Americans, the bishops have a constitutional right to participate in the political process. They can debate the issues, criticize candidates and publicly express their views. They can even endorse candidates as long as they don’t do it on church property and don’t use church funds in supporting a candidate or party. In fact, they can even run for president as did Rev. Pat Robertson and Rev. Jesse Jackson. The U.S. Constitution does not forbid this; Roman Catholic canon law forbids it.

But what is constitutional is not always effective or prudent. Clearly the political strategy of the bishops is not working. A majority of Catholics voted for Obama and gay activists won every referendum. The Missouri and Indiana Republican senatorial candidates, who took the toughest positions on abortion, were also defeated when the Republicans were expected to win these races.

So where do the bishops go from here?

Survey: Gap Between 'Social Justice' and 'Right to Life' Catholics

More American Catholics believe their religious leaders should be focused on issues related to poverty and social justice during this election season, rather than spending time and energy on other issues such as abortion, according to a new survey released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The results of the 2012 American Values Survey demonstrate that American Catcholics -- and the "Catholic vote" -- is far from the monolith some politicians might like to believe they are.

"The survey confirms that there is no such thing as the 'Catholic vote,'" Robert P. Jones, CEO of PPRI and co-author of the report, told Reuters. "There are a number of critical divisions among Catholics, including an important divide between 'social justice' and "right to life' Catholics."

For instance, on the question of the public engagement of the church, the 2012 American Values Survey found important divisions between Catholics who prefer a “social justice” emphasis that focuses on helping the poor and Catholics who prefer a “right to life” emphasis that focuses on issues such as abortion.

Catholic Bishop Says Church’s Credibility on Sexual Abuse Is ‘Shredded’

The U.S. Catholic bishops' point man on sexual abuse has said that the hierarchy's credibility on fixing the problem is "shredded" and that the situation is comparable to the Reformation, when “the episcopacy, the regular clergy, even the papacy were discredited.”

Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Ill., last month told a conference of staffers who oversee child safety programs in American dioceses that he had always assumed that consistently implementing the bishops’ policies on child protection, “coupled with some decent publicity, would turn public opinion around.”

Poll: Catholics Side With Bishops on Religious Liberty, But Warm to Obama

new poll shows that American Catholics tend to agree with their bishops’ concerns that religious liberties are at risk in the U.S.

Nevertheless, Catholics seem to be warming to President Obama, even as the bishops lambaste his administration in their fight to roll back a federal mandate that requires employers — with some exceptions — to cover birth control in their health plans.

The poll, released on Aug. 1 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life as the contraception mandate took effect, found that among Catholics who are aware of the bishops' protests, 56 percent say they agree with the bishops’ concerns, as opposed to 36 percent who disagree.