Catholic

Picking the Pope: Holy Spirit or ‘Groupthink’?

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.

Cardinals Move to Plug Leaks Ahead of Papal Conclave

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.

Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien Admits to Sexual Misconduct

Cardinal Keith O'Brien. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Days after pulling out of the conclave to elect the next pope and vowing to fight the charges against him, disgraced Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien admitted Sunday to inappropriate “sexual conduct.”

O’Brien, who until a week ago was the highest-ranking Roman Catholic cleric in England and Scotland, had served as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh for the last seven years and was made a cardinal in 2003.

Pope Benedict Defends Choice to Resign in Last Public Address

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.

What Pope Benedict XVI Shares With His Notorious Namesake

Pope Benedict XVI. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

You won’t find many Catholic churches named after Pope Benedict IX.

Benedict IX squandered the papacy’s moral and financial riches in bordellos and banquet halls. His violence and debauchery “shocked even the Romans,” said philosopher Bertrand Russell, which is kind of like being busted for lewdness in Las Vegas. He was a puppet pope, installed by his powerful family at a time when rival clans ruled Rome. The young man seemed uninterested in religious life, rushing through ordination only after his election to the Throne of St. Peter in 1032.

St. Peter Damian called Benedict IX a "demon from hell in the disguise of a priest." The Catholic Encyclopedia labels him a “disgrace to the chair of St. Peter.” He was the first Pope Benedict to resign, selling the papacy for gold in order to marry. He later tried to reclaim the holy office and served three stints as pope between 1032 and 1048.

Nearly a millennium later, the pious and bookish Pope Benedict XVI seems completely contrary to his notorious namesake. Even if his papacy has stumbled at times, by all accounts the current Benedict has led a chaste life devoted to serving his church.

Who Runs the Vatican After the Pope Steps Down?

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Photo by Rene Shaw.

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Photo by Rene Shaw.

VATICAN CITY — As of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI will no longer be pope and the Vatican will go into “sede vacante” mode — a Latin expression that means that the seat of St. Peter is vacant.

So who’s in charge until a new pope is chosen? The “interregnum” between two popes is governed by ancient rituals and by institutions half forgotten even within the Vatican.

But it is also the only time that the Catholic Church comes close to vaguely resembling a democracy, with the College of Cardinals acting somewhat like a Parliament with limited powers as it prepares to choose the new pontiff in a closed-doors conclave.

Activists Mobilize Around White House’s Catholic ‘Hate Group’ Petition

We The People petition

We The People petition

The White House’s novel online system for allowing citizens to petition the administration on any number of causes has led to various unintended consequences: petitions to secede from the U.S. following President Obama’s re-election; a petition for Vice President Joe Biden to star in a reality show; and a petition for the government to disclose its secret archives on extraterrestrials.

Now there is a petition to designate the Roman Catholic Church as a hate group for its opposition to gay rights, and it may wind up generating almost as many press releases as signatures.

The “We the People” petition was filed on Christmas Day and was prompted by Pope Benedict XVI’s Dec. 21 year-end address to Vatican administrators in which he denounced gay marriage as a threat to Western civilization.

Catholic Intensity Fades as Evangelical Devotion Surges

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Parishioners hold hands while praying the “Our Father’ during Catholic mass. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

After November’s presidential vote, Catholics could cite ample evidence for their renewed political relevance while dispirited evangelicals were left wondering if they are destined to be yesterday’s election news. Yet their roles in American spiritual life may be reversed.

New research shows that Catholics now report the lowest proportion of "strongly affiliated" followers among major American religious traditions, while the data indicates that evangelicals are increasingly devout and committed to their faith.

According to Philip Schwadel, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in the 1970s there was only a five-point difference between how strongly Catholics and evangelicals felt about their religion.

By 2010, he said, that “intensity gap” had grown to around 20 points, with some 56 percent of evangelicals describing themselves as “strongly affiliated” with their religion compared with 35 percent of Catholics. Even mainline Protestants reported a higher level of religious intensity than Catholics, at 39 percent.

Romero's Glasses

Alex Bowie/Getty Images

Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917 - 1980) at home in San Salvador, 20th November 1979. Alex Bowie/Getty Images

Editor's Note: The following is a poem written by Trevor Scott Barton following reading The Violence of Love by Archbiship Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980.

Children
longing for a hero,
living love, peace and hope,
protecting ordinary people from extraordinary hatred and violence,
peaceful hero,
dying for the cause but not killing for it,
denying guns and bombs their power,
risking the violence of love.
Conserving tradition at first for the greatest,
seeing through your glasses at last for the least,
feeling the hunger of underpaid workers,
knowing the poverty of farmers,
hearing the warning, "Here's what happens to priests who get involved in politics,
holding tears of the disappeared.
Challenging,
calling all to view the liberating body of a slain priest,
serving the poor,
using words to build up humanity and tear down injustice,
"In the name of God, stop killing ..."
offering crucifixion,
discovering resurrection.

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