Zero Hour at the Vatican: Bitter Struggle for Control of the Catholic Church

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Vatican expert John L. Allen, on the other hand, believes the radicalism of Benedict's gesture could encourage the cardinals to "think outside the box and assume the risk of taking a new step." The signal, murmured in Latin on Monday, couldn't have been clearer: It can't go on like this.

In other words, it is quite possible that the conclave will bring about a change in direction, even though the current pope appointed 67 of the 117-member electorate. Perhaps it will mean that a non-European will be elected for the first time, or someone who is not as fixated on the supposed cultural decay as Benedict. Or perhaps it will lead to a McKinsey pope, a man equipped with sufficient managerial qualities to bring the wind of change into the administration of the Catholic empire.

The shadow of the "good" Pope John XXIII will also hang over the conclave -- as a hope for some and a warning for others. He was a surprise pope, largely unknown, who suddenly had the courage to open up the church. With the reform council of 1962 to 1965, John XXIII led his church into the 20th century.

A new John would have to do the same for the 21st century. He would have to transform the globalized church from an empire into a commonwealth, in which regional differences are possible and not every theologian whose views are deemed objectionable could be silenced by a papal pronouncement from Rome.

The Need for a New Beginning

Thomas von Mitschke-Collande, the former advisor to the German Bishops' Conference, deplores the pope's need for harmony. "Being Catholic also means unity in diversity. Bishops and the pope must come to terms with this tense relationship. The universal church now needs a pope who is willing to relinquish more of his power." There is no alternative, says Mitschke-Collande, in light of globalization, the diversity of regions and the differences in the nature of Catholics worldwide. He believes that the assumption that only one monolithic church is a strong church is fundamentally incorrect. "Using this approach, no corporation today would be able to market its products worldwide anymore," says Mitschke-Collande, who made his career as a consultant at McKinsey.

On the other hand Ratzinger, a former council theologian, tried to counteract the centrifugal currents. He was a pope of the Restoration, and many priests, and members of their congregations even more so, hope that those days are now gone.

It was not a happy pontificate for Benedict XVI, but rather one of suffering. The world witnessed a shy person who regards the present with deep pessimism and, no matter how hard he tried, was unable to hide his feelings.

Last year, Benedict repeatedly experienced how every step forward was weighed down by the shadows of the past, including charges of abuse and betrayal. Furthermore, his pronouncements were often thwarted, especially in his native Germany. Indeed, church attendance in his homeland has declined to 12 percent of the population and elementary religious beliefs -- that of the creed and the belief in the resurrection and the Holy Trinity -- are now held by only a minority of the population.

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