Vatican City

On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI surprised the Roman Catholic community, and the rest of the world, by announcing he would resign the papacy on Feb. 28. In doing so, he becomes the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, and the first pope to willingly resign since Celestine V in 1294. Regardless of why Benedict resigned, what’s more important is what this pontifical nomination will mean for the future of the Catholic Church. Depending on who is elected to be the next pope by the College of Cardinals, it could bring great changes to the Roman Catholic Church. Of the 117 men who will choose the next pope, 67 were appointed by Benedict. The other 50 were appointed by his predecessor, John Paul II. Many of these Cardinals share their conservative values including upholding traditional church teachings regarding homosexuality and women’s ordination and cracking down on liberation theology. As conclave approaches, speculation about papal frontrunners has developed. A pack of seven cardinals seem to have emerged as the dominant prospects:

  1. Cardinal Luis Antonio of the Philippines
  2. Cardinal Francis Arinze an Igbo Nigerian
  3. Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana
  4. Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada
  5. Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy
  6. Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan of the United States
  7. Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil

Of this pack, Turkson, Ouellet and Scola seem to be at the top. Scola fits the rank-and-file profile of a pope: old, Italian, conservative, theologian. Ouellet and Turkson would somewhat break the mold. Ouellet, although a Vatican insider, would be the first non-European pope. However, he is still a doctrinal conservative and hails from an economically prosperous, highly industrialized country. Turkson would be the first black pope and the first non-European pope. He comes from a less economically prosperous state, in a politically tumultuous region where Christianity is still growing. Although the academic and religious credentials of all three men are exemplary, the Catholic Church needs a leader like Turkson who understands the needs of the church in the developing world. Men like Ouellet and Scola understand how the church has grown and developed to the position it holds now, but they may not be fully prepared to lead the church into a new era. An estimated 41 percent of the worlds 1.2 billion Roman Catholics live in Latin America. Africa has seen a greater increase in Catholicism than any other continent since 1970. Yet these areas are egregiously underrepresented in the College of Cardinals. Although the church is not a democracy, it still needs a leader who can fulfill the spiritual needs of the post while representing the body of the institution. Old European men no longer represent the base of Roman Catholicism, nor do they have a monopoly on theological and doctrinal knowledge. The church is ready for a pope that breaks the mold. It’s just church leadership that might not be. 

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