Skip to main content

Huge challenges await next pope

By Kevin Clarke, Special to CNN
February 12, 2013 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
Pope Benedict XVI waves in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican in December 2012. Benedict, 85, announced on Monday, February 11, that he will resign at the end of February "because of advanced age." The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415. Pope Benedict XVI waves in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican in December 2012. Benedict, 85, announced on Monday, February 11, that he will resign at the end of February "because of advanced age." The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.
HIDE CAPTION
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kevin Clarke: Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign caught papal watchers off-guard
  • Clarke: But canon law allows papal resignation; it's tradition that popes reign till death
  • Benedict said a pope is obligated to resign if he can't handle duties
  • Clarke: Whoever is chosen will deal with huge challenges facing Catholic Church

Editor's note: Kevin Clarke is the associate editor of America magazine, a national weekly published by the American Jesuits that reports on issues surrounding Catholicism, including news, book reviews, the arts and opinion.

(CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign caught a lot of Vatican watchers, apparently even some in his inner circle, off-guard. They should not have been so surprised.

Canon law includes a provision for a papal resignation. But traditionally, popes continue their reigns until their natural deaths, much as a father can never "resign" from his place in a family.

Before he was pope, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict watched an increasingly frail Pope John Paul II struggle to shoulder his many responsibilities and respond, in his final years, to the scandal of the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the United States and Europe.

Kevin Clarke
Kevin Clarke

Another reason it is not a shock: In Peter Seewald's "Light of the World," a book-length interview with Benedict, the pope was unambiguous about his openness to the idea of papal resignation.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Too tired to go on, Pope Benedict resigns

Yes, a pope could resign, Benedict said. "If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign."

And by some accounts, Benedict made three pilgrimages to the tomb of Pope Celestine V, who resigned from the papacy in 1294.

So what comes next? Presuming that this pope's resignation follows the same protocol as the death of a pope, all major decisions and pronouncements will be on hold after Benedict's reign ends February 28. The See of Peter will be vacant -- officially "Sede Vacante."

Watch Pope Benedict XVI resign
Abuse by priests mars pope's legacy
Pope Benedict's influence will linger
Who will be selected as the next pope?

During the vacancy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See's camerlengo, Italian for chamberlain, takes charge with the help of three cardinal assistants.

To prevent forgery, Bertone will break the pope's fisherman's ring by hitting it with a small hammer, a tradition that was started when the ring was used to seal documents. Benedict's apartment will be sealed to prevent any hijinks with official documents.

Opinion: Why pope will be remembered for generations

Bertone will organize a conclave of 118 cardinals, who must meet in Rome within 20 days of the end of Benedict's reign to deliberate on a successor. White smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel's chimney will indicate a selection.

Guessing who that selection might be, one of the church's favorite spectator sports, has already begun among papal watchers worldwide.

Among the "papabile," or possible contenders, are Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, which would return the job to an Italian; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former archbishop of Quebec; Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which would be a nod to the African church's growing numbers and influence; and Joao Braz de Aviz of Brazil, indicating a liberating take on the church in the future.

The Pope's resignation, explained

How about Cardinals Donald Wuerl or Timothy Dolan from the United States? They are outside contenders. The rest of the world thinks Americans are super-powered enough already.

Whoever is chosen will face the many challenges that Pope Benedict has no doubt wisely decided he no longer has the stamina to address, including:

• The growing secularization and antipathy of the West.

• Violence and intolerance visited on Christians in Islamic nations like Pakistan, Egypt and Syria.

• The evaporating Christian presence in the Holy Land, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

• More brutal revelations of clerical sexual abuse in Africa and Latin America, which have yet to adequately confront the problem.

• The ongoing priest shortage.

• Plummeting church attendance.

• Growing calls for optional celibacy.

• Persisting demands for women's ordination and more.

Is there somebody out there who really wants this job?

Surprising standards for next Catholic leader

Perhaps now, with confidence that a new precedent has been set and an actual well-deserved retirement would not be completely out of the question, someone will be courageous or foolhardy enough to step forward. And in an oddity of church tradition, that person need not be a cleric, only a baptized male. So if you are, feel free to submit your application to the College of Cardinals.

Meanwhile, let us pray whoever is the next pope is also equipped with compassion, mercy and vision.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kevin Clarke.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2334 GMT (0734 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT