|Sr. Joan Chittister: An American Catholic in Rome|
Posted April 17, 2005 at 3:30 p.m. CDT
Never mind the papabile,
consider the papacy
In Rome today, one part of the population is completely involved in a kind of “Can-you-name-that-Pope” game. Newspaper and television programs provide daily biographies of the 15-20 most likely candidates hour after hour, day after day. The only problem is that nobody really knows who these so-called “candidates” are. Cardinals stopped on the street simply say that no clear prospects have emerged yet.
The question, of course, is why?
In this largest-ever papal conclave, the cardinal electors, especially those from third world countries, are simply unknown to one another. Only those already regularly involved in the European scene have even had the opportunity for early discussions or mutual review of the more prominent papal frontrunners.
Point: Talking about particular candidates in this conclave, unlike many before it, is at best blind handicapping, and, at most, anybody’s guessing game. It’s the ecclesiastical version of a national political campaign in which all the candidates appear on television behind black screens and none of them have been nominated by anybody.
There are other kinds of discussions going on here, however, that have more to do with the nature of the papacy itself than with the personalities or theological orientations of possible papal candidates. These discussions strike me as the most creative of all.
For a church on the brink of a new age, serious conversation about the purpose of the papacy rather than the personalities of possible popes may, in the long run, be the most meaningful and productive of all.
Issues raised at the press conferences sponsored by the governing board of the international movement entitled “We Are Church” this week imply a model of papal leadership that reaches back to the early church as well as ahead to the development of new structures and the emergence of new issues. Pointing both to church history and to the papacy of John Paul II, they suggested that adaptations in structure and theological emphasis are demanded by a fast-changing world now if the church is to remain a vital force in both public life and personal spirituality in years to come.
The conversation had the feel of truth to it.
First, the speakers suggested, a pope, like other leaders, both ecclesiastical and civil, should have a term limit. Tissa Balisuriya, Sri Lankan theologian, suggested a time interval of ten years at most in order to safeguard the church from a spate of papal personality cults in the mega-media age. We must not “make the pope God,” he said.
Third, they argued, the church needs another Ecumenical Council to look at the very nature of the church itself in a modern world. Given the seriousness and scientific dimensions of current issues–the use of condoms in societies being ravaged by AIDS, for instance, or the emergence of new medical technologies in human reproduction--the need for global reflection on the moral and theological dimensions of these issues is imperative. A new council, they said, should be held outside of Rome–a signal to the world of the church’s independence from both Western domination and the Roman curia.
Finally, speakers called strongly for “increased authority and participation for women in the church.” The church had lay Cardinals until the 19the century, Collins said. “It’s time for a woman.”
Whatever symptoms the specific proposals are meant to cure, the health of the church, these thinkers say, is in danger of suffering from too much papalism, excessive centralization beyond any historical norm, the need for real collegiality, openness and a male-centeredness that makes invisible half the population of the world.
“I want a pope who is modest,” Balisuriya said. “I want a pope who is prepared to learn,” Collins said. The message was clear: Never mind either the name or the nationality of a new pope. It’s how a new pope sees both the church and the world that will determine the effectiveness of the church in this world to come.
© 2005 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111
TEL: 1-816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280