pope benedict xvi

Vatican Mulling Changes to Election of New Pope

Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. RNS photo by Grzegorz Galazka.
Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. RNS photo by Grzegorz Galazka.

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Wednesday confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI is considering changes to church law regulating the election of a new pope, but stopped short of saying whether voting could start earlier than currently planned.

Pope John Paul II’s 1996 Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis” regulates what happens between the death or resignation of a pope and the election of his successor.

It stipulates that the conclave of cardinals must begin 15 to 20 days after the end of the previous pontificate.

But after Benedict’s surprise announcement that he will resign on Feb. 28, several voices within the church have asked for an earlier start to the voting to shorten the time the Catholic Church is left without a leader.

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.

Conservatives Vent Disappointment Over Benedict’s Papacy

Pope Benedict in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.
Pope Benedict in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the surprising choice cast a pall over the liberal wing of the flock and left conservatives giddy with the prospect of total victory. Ratzinger had for decades served as the Vatican’s guardian of orthodoxy, the man known as “God’s Rottweiler,” and his vocal fans were crowing about the glorious reign to come.

“He’ll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics,” the Rev. M. Price Oswalt, an Oklahoma City priest who was in St. Peter’s Square that April day, told The New York Times. “He’s going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children.”

Now, however, with Benedict set to leave office eight years later in an unprecedented departure, many on the Catholic right are counting up the ways that Benedict failed them, and wondering how their favorite watchdog turned into a papal pussycat.

Why the Next Pope Should Be a Poor Woman of Color

Michaelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica, javi_indy / Shutterstock.com
Michaelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica, javi_indy / Shutterstock.com

For the first time in six centuries, the head of the Catholic Church is stepping down. Some, like Huffington Post Religion’s Senior Editor Paul Raushenbush, have suggested this is an indication that the stodgy religious institution is creeping its way toward modernism. Could it be that the role of Pope will be considered to be that more like a CEO than a sovereign ruler? Is there room within today’s church for its leadership to step down when they feel they can no longer adequately fill the tremendous demands heaped upon them?

Can Popes retire? And if so, do they have to give up those cool red shoes?

So if, indeed, the Catholic Church is moving in a new direction, why not consider a more thorough overhaul? Some have suggested that the next Pope should come from the southern hemisphere, given that this is where the faith is growing the most (actually, it’s not really growing much at all in the northern half of the world). But as some have suggested within the church, the process of selecting a Pope is not necessarily driven by creating a representative leadership.

That said, it seems a rare opportunity to do something exciting. I, like many people, assumed that the successor to Pope Benedict would have to come from within the College of Cardinals. But though this has been tradition for most of the life of the Church, Pope Clement V is a rare exception. He was plucked from a monastery to become Pope, with the hope of overcoming much of the perceived corruption within the College.

And though the College of Cardinals is not explicitly mired in scandal at the moment, the Church itself certainly has suffered some blows in the court of public opinion, as well as in the court of law, in some cases. So given that precedent, perhaps it’s time for another radical departure from tradition, one that will signal to the world that the Church is more committed than ever before to its mandate to care for the poor, and support the marginalized.

Pope Benedict’s American Fan Club Full of Evangelicals

Not all Catholics appreciated Pope Benedict XVI’s staunch defense of Christian orthodoxy, traditional marriage, and life from conception to natural death. But American evangelicals sure did.

As word spread on Monday of Benedict’s resignation, many evangelicals lamented the impending loss of a powerful spokesman for their conservative causes.

“Pope Benedict XVI has exemplified moral courage and an unwavering commitment to the Gospel message,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian political group.

“We honor him for his lifelong service to the Lord and his inestimable intellectual contribution to Christian orthodoxy.”

The high praise — “evangelical Benedictions,” you might say — extended beyond U.S. borders as well.

How the Traditional Pope Benedict Is Redefining the Papacy

RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.
Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict XVI came into office with the reputation of a conservative hardliner, a vigorous defender of orthodoxy who wanted to restore Tradition — yes, with a capital “T” — to a church that was seen as disturbingly undisciplined.

Yet with the stunning announcement that he is resigning as the 264th successor to Saint Peter, Benedict may wind up fundamentally changing the way the church and the world view the papacy.

That’s because the papacy has come to represent more than an office, and the pope more than just a higher-ranking priest or bishop who enjoys lifetime tenure, a nice Vatican apartment, and the privilege of wearing a white cassock no matter the season.

Instead, the papacy is seen as a divine mission unlike any other in the church, and one that ends only in death.

“Christ did not come down from the cross,” the late John Paul II, Benedict’s immediate predecessor, would tell aides who wondered if his failing health and public suffering should compel him to relinquish his office.

A man is elected pope by the cardinals, yes, but at the behest of the Holy Spirit, according to Catholic theology. He takes a new name, and can’t even go home to collect his things: He moves into the Vatican right away, inhabiting a new identity in a new position — so superior that canon law says a pope can resign, but says he cannot resign to anyone.

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

St. Peter's Basilica Dome, David Carillet/ Shutterstock.com
St. Peter's Basilica Dome, David Carillet/ Shutterstock.com

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.

Electing A New Pope Draws on Tradition and Secrecy

vipflash / Shutterstock.com
Reception of Pope Benedict XVI at Schloss Bellevue on September 22, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. vipflash / Shutterstock.com

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will soon become the first pope to resign since 1415, short-circuiting many of the initial stages of electing a new pope. But the Vatican says the transition to a new papacy shouldn’t be all that different from normal.

Of course, the traditional rituals associated with confirming the death of a pope and planning his funeral will not be necessary. But the process outlined below, rife with secrecy and tradition, will largely follow centuries-old protocol.

What Happens Next at the Vatican

Andreas SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images
White smoke at the Vatican in 2005, signaling the election of Cardinal Ratzinger. Andreas SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

Following is a brief explanation of the process used in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Q: Who governs the church until a new pope is elected?

A: Day-to-day operations are handled by the Vatican curia, the central bureaucracy. All prelates who head Vatican agencies resign after the death or resignation of a pope. Provisions are made to oversee the papal household, the spiritual needs of Romans and to grant absolutions.

Q: What does the word “conclave” mean?

A: The word comes from the Latin, “with a key,” referring to the tradition of locking the doors until cardinals elect a winner.

Q: Who is eligible to be elected pope?

A: Technically, any baptized male Catholic is eligible, provided he is not married and in good standing with the church. Since 1378, however, new popes have come from within the College of Cardinals.

Vatican: 'We Should Have a New Pope by Easter'

RNS photo courtesy Paul Haring/Catholic News Service
Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. RNS photo courtesy Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In a move that took the world by surprise, Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that he will become the first pope in 600 years to resign, with plans to step down on Feb. 28.

“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” Benedict told cardinals as they gathered in Rome for the proclamation of new saints.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said preparations for the conclave that will elect Benedict’s successor are in the early stages.

A papal election could be expected “within 10 to 15 days,” he said. “We should have a new pope by Easter.”

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