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
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT