News Column

Choosing the Next Pope

Feb 25, 2013

For the first time in 598 years, Roman Catholic cardinals will pick a new pope while his predecessor is still alive. And questions abound.

So do the mysteries surrounding the traditions of the Vatican conclave of cardinals that will elect a pope under the unusual circumstances set in motion Feb. 11 when Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would resign as of Thursday.

Matt Kerr, director of communications for the Allentown Diocese, which includes Berks County, agreed to address questions on customs for a new pope's installation with the help of some other Catholic and media sources.

Gerald S. Vigna, associate professor of theology at Alvernia University, also provided perspective on some of the questions.

Q: Because there is no deceased pope to grieve, must the cardinals really wait for a 15- to 20-day mourning period to elapse before the conclave?

Kerr: A Vatican spokesman was quoted as saying the conclave could start before March 15 if all the cardinals are already in Rome. That decision might not come until after Benedict's departure and lies in the hands of the cardinals, he added.

Vigna: Historically, the 15- to 20-day period was there because of the difficulties of travel in previous times. Circumstances have changed and, in this case, there is no mourning period for a pope.

Q: Who will be in charge of the Vatican (church) between the resignation Thursday and the day the new pope is installed?

Kerr: Under a 1996 document prepared by Pope John Paul II, the cardinal with the title camerlengo, currently Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, runs the Vatican state and is in charge of the church's property and money in absence of the pope. During the period between popes, the dean of the College of Cardinals, currently Cardinal Angelo Sodano, presides at the daily meetings of the cardinals who run the church on an interim basis. Sodano is older than 80 and so won't have the right to vote in the conclave. His place will be taken by the most-senior member of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, according to reports from Religion News Service.

Q: Normally, the pope's chamberlain seals the deceased pope's quarters and preserves or destroys his personal effects. What is going to happen to the pope's papers?

Kerr: I believe the pope's personal effects will move with him to the monastery that will be his post-resignation home.

Vigna: As for the pope's official pontifical papers, I think they would stay in the Vatican.

Q: It is a custom to smash the deceased pope's ring with a special silver hammer. Will the retired pope still wear his ring?

Kerr: A Vatican spokesman said the day after the pope's resignation was announced that objects strictly connected with the papal ministry will be terminated. Among these is the papal ring, used as a seal for documents.

Q: We know that retirement quarters are being built for the pope at the Vatican. What will his title be? Will he still be Benedict or will he revert to Joseph Ratzinger?

Kerr: The Vatican's senior communications adviser, Greg Burke, said Benedict would most likely be referred to as bishop-emeritus of Rome. Pope Benedict XVI has not discussed publicly what he would like to be called and the new pope might have a say in that. An Associated Press story said unnamed Vatican officials believe the retired pope could still be addressed as Your Holiness, much as former U.S. presidents are still called Mr. President.

Q: When the retired pope dies, will he be entombed with other popes under the altar of St. Peter's Basilica?

Kerr: As Pope Benedict XVI is still very much alive, there has been no public discussion of his final resting place. But, having been pope, Benedict would still be entitled to entombment in the underground crypts beneath St. Peter's Basilica, much as retired bishops are placed in crypts in their cathedrals when they die.

Q: What will the retired pope wear daily?

Kerr: I would imagine it will be clerical garb, but whether it's the white cassock of a pope or a priest's black cassock we may not know. Pope Benedict XVI has indicated he intends to live a life of prayer in the monastery on the Vatican grounds. There might not be any public appearances.

Vigna: At the least, I think it will be the red cassock of a cardinal. Overall, many of these questions point to the unprecedented nature of this situation. We really don't have all the answers. When the last pope resigned, he resigned in order to heal a schism. An earlier pope, Celestine V in the Middle Ages, was a monk who resigned to return to his contemplative monastic life.

Q: What will he do?

Kerr: In his resignation statement on Feb. 11, the pope answered that question: "With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."

Vigna: Joseph Ratzinger is one of the more important theologians and scholars in the Catholic Church. He may well wind up reading, writing and publishing. He is a very solid scholar.

Q: Will he be paid?

Kerr: Italian media outlets quoted by the International Business Times reported Pope Benedict XVI will be paid a pension of $3,340 a month, the pension usually paid to retired Italian bishops. The pope is the bishop of Rome, which qualifies him for a pension.

Q: Will Benedict be eligible to vote for his own successor?

Kerr: The 85-year-old retired pontiff will not take part in the conclave.

Q: Because no candidate for pope is allowed to preside at the conclave, would Benedict be allowed to preside?

Kerr: From the day the pope's resignation was announced, the Vatican has said he will have no role in the conclave or the election of his successor.

Vigna: Although he will have no formal role, Pope Benedict's influence surely will be felt in the conclave.

- Compiled by Bruce R. Posten



Source: (c)2013 Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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