Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pope makes way for a younger pontiff

The initial shockwaves that followed Pope Benedict’s resignation announcement this week were followed surprisingly quickly by expressions of approval and optimism.
Benedict XVI, 85, is the first Pope to resign in six centuries, but the feeling is that he has done the right thing, bearing in mind not only his age, but the parlous state of the Catholic Church. The feeling in Portugal and elsewhere is that a younger and more energetic pontiff is now needed.
Among the first senior members of the Church in Portugal to comment publicly was the Bishop of Fátima, Monsignor António Marto. He said the resignation would present an opportunity to pick a new pope from a country in the developing world.
Europe today is going through a period of cultural tiredness, exhaustion, which is reflected in the way Christianity is lived,” Bishop Marto told reporters. “You don't see that in Africa or Latin America where there is freshness, an enthusiasm about living the faith.
“Perhaps we need a pope who can look beyond Europe and bring to the entire church a certain vitality that is seen on other continents.”
The “cultural tiredness” of which Bishop Marto spoke is reflected in the fact that although nearly 90% of people in Portugal profess to be Catholic, fewer than 20% regularly attend Mass. The figure could be much lower than that, especially among the young.
In 2000, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as Benedict was known under his predecessor Pope John Paul II, gave the official interpretation of the long suppressed “Third Secret” of Fátima that stemmed from the reported appearances of the Virgin Mary at Fátima on six consecutive months in 1917. They have been described by the Vatican as “undoubtedly the most prophetic of modern apparitions.”
Ratzinger dismissed notions that the third secret was the Virgin Mary’s warning of doom, either for the Church or the whole world. In a lengthy theological commentary, he spoke of such things as “private revelation” as opposed to “public revelation.” His explanation of the contents and meaning of the third secret was widely criticised as a 'cover-up.'
Since then, growing secularism, opposition from dissident Catholic traditionalists and child sex abuse scandals have drawn a great many people away from the Church in Europe and North America. Meanwhile, Church attendance is growing in Africa and almost half the world’s Catholics live in Latin America.
While on his way to visit Portugal in May 2010, Benedict XVI declared that the widespread abuse of children by members of the clergy showed that the greatest threat to the Catholic Church came from “sin within.”
“Today we see in a truly terrifying way that the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from outside enemies, but is born of sin within the Church,” the pontiff told reporters on a plane bound for Portugal to mark the 93rd anniversary of the reported apparitions.
A turnout of some half a million people for an open-air Mass celebrated by Benedict at the Fátima shrine was seen as clear support for him personally.
“As far as the crisis and scandals are concerned, I think that the people wanted to show that they can distinguish between exceptions and the vast majority of their priests,” Portuguese episcopal spokesman Manuel Morujão told reporters.
But the pontiff continued to court controversy after Portugal had already decriminalised abortion and at a time when the country was about to legalise gay marriage. He told Catholic social workers at Fátima that abortion and gay marriage were “insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.”
All that is in the past now, of course. Catholics are looking to the future. Benedict has emphasised that he is retiring “for the good of the Church.” The conclave of cardinals will begin the process of finding a new pope on March 15.
The Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon,  D. José Policarpo, took part in the election process in 2005 and was himself described as “a dark horse” candidate to replace John Paul II. He said this week that Benedict’s eight year pontificate had been a very difficult one and hoped his resignation would result in a younger pontiff with the ability to lead the church into a new era.

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