The Roman Catholic Church broke with 600 years of tradition last week when Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb. 28, citing health concerns.
“People have been shocked by it. Everyone in the congregation, priests and people in the diocese, even non-Catholics and other ministers in town, were surprised,” said Father Joe McDonald of Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church in Sun Valley. “They called to see if everything was going to be OK in the church.”
According to the Associated Press, “the last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism, a dispute among competing papal claimants. The most famous resignation was Pope Celestine V in 1294; Dante placed him in hell for it.”
Bishop Michael P. Driscoll of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise issued a statement, which read in part, “I call on all Catholics throughout Idaho to offer their prayers for our pope and our people. I also pray for the members of the College of Cardinals as they begin the process of listening to the Holy Spirit and electing a worthy successor.”
McDonald said he has had many requests for information about the Catholic Church’s process for selecting a new pope, but that the information would not be available until next week.
“The church is having to rewrite the brochure on choosing a pope, because they have never had one resign,” he said.
McDonald said the Vatican had already sent five new “intercessory prayers” for him to use upon the resignation of a pope.
McDonald said the College of Cardinals would select a new pope by secret ballot within Vatican City in Rome, a process that usually takes place one to two months after the death of a pope.
“It’s not a political process,” he said. “The cardinals don’t say, ‘We should use this guy because he’s more liberal, or this one because he’s more conservative.’ It begins with prayer. It takes a two-thirds majority, plus one vote, for a new pope to be chosen. Once they enter conclave, the cardinals turn the process over to the Holy Spirit.”
Yet, many Catholics around the world await news of whether the new pope will be more open to change within Catholic doctrine.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that “[s]ince becoming pope in 2005, Benedict has charted a very conservative course for the church, trying to reawaken Christianity in Europe where it had fallen by the wayside and return the church to its traditional roots, which he felt had been betrayed by a botched interpretation of the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
“His efforts, though, were overshadowed by a worldwide clerical sex-abuse scandal, communication gaffes that outraged Jews and Muslims alike and, more recently, a scandal over leaked documents by his own butler. Many of his stated priorities as pope also fell short: He failed to establish relations with China, heal the schism and reunite with the Orthodox Church, or reconcile with a group of breakaway, traditionalist Catholics.”
McDonald called Benedict “fairly conservative.”
“He followed the style of shepherding the church, like Pope John Paul II. Both were philosophers. Both were for building consensus from their advisors, and both took their time making decisions,” McDonald said.
Pope John Paul II suffered from Parkinson’s disease during the final years of his papacy.
“People in the West, Americans and Europeans especially, want change fast,” McDonald said. “If there’s a rule they don’t like, they want it changed. But that’s not the way the church works. The church works slowly over time in making important decisions. Allowing women in the priesthood and married clergy are probably the two biggest issues that Americans are concerned about.”
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org