Mourning the pope
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Posted April 6, 2005 at 6:23 p.m. CDT

Cardinals cite more collegiality, better communication
as concerns entering the conclave

They ponder an election process invented in the Middle Ages

By Stacy Meichtry

As preparations for the first papal election in 26 years get underway, cardinals addressed the need for better communication between the Vatican and local dioceses while batting away concerns that regional agendas would influence their voting.

Dialogue, not Disunity
Among the most frequently cited concerns was whether the church could strengthen collegiality without compromising its universal doctrine. Church officials often use collegiality as a code word for the decentralization of Vatican power.

(photo: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)
Cardinals gather outside the Synod Hall at the Vatican April 5. They were planning a funeral expected to draw the greatest tide of pilgrims and heads of state in Vatican history.
"How do you reflect the unity of the universal church and then figure out how to do that in our own back yard? That's a question for the church in the future to look at and figure out," Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington D.C. said in an exclusive interview with NCR April 5.

"With the universal church it is so important that we do have unity. Unity doesn't mean uniformity. But unity is so important," he said.

McCarrick said he had not spoken with other cardinals about increased collegiality since his arrival in Rome.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, speaking to reporters hours later, said: "I think collegiality needs to be strengthened, because that means you strengthen the unity of the bishops. We can look for better ways to strengthen it. The conferences in various parts of the world are one way to do it."

George went on to say that collegiality did not imply a shifting of power from Rome to local dioceses, but rather a boosting of dialogue between the Holy See and the rest of the world. He cited John Paul's' world travels and synods as a means of doing this.

Collegiality "doesn't mean autonomy. It doesn't mean independence. It means just the opposite. It means you're together."

McCarrick, who spoke to NCR after addressing the media in English and Spanish, said John Paul's multilingualism had been "very useful, because he was able to bring everybody together."

George said that a multilingual pope would be "helpful," but stressed that a command of Italian was indispensable.

"The pope is the bishop of Rome, so he has to be at home here. That doesn't mean that he has to be Italian, but he has to speak Italian."

National alliances not welcome
Neither George or McCarrick believe that U.S. cardinals were likely to form a voting block and push a national agenda in the conclave. George said that any country whose cardinals present themselves as a united front risked being "resented."

"We're not going to try, I'm sure, to act as a group. That would be the worst possible thing to do," he said, noting that each cardinal had his own cultural baggage to sort through before entering the conclave.

"We live in a country that has been historically somewhat hostile (to the church), and that is for other reasons today. And you have to take that into account," he said.

"We have come to a point in our country where freedom also includes sexual freedom, and therefore the Catholic church's teachings are very resented."

Cardinals from Africa, meanwhile, told the Roman newspaper Il Messaggero that the idea of a black pope may still be too new.

"The West is not yet ready for a black pope," said Francis Arinze of Nigeria, a curial cardinal on many papabile lists.

Using almost identical language, Bernard Agre of the Ivory Coast said, "Psychologically and spiritually the West is still not ready for a black pope."

"Even if there's no need to exclude the possibility, this is the mentality of the people now."

Twenty-six years later
Another top concern among the cardinals was how the duration John Paul's pontificate would affect the dynamics of the conclave.

Without elaborating, Cardinal Armand Gaetan Razafindratandra of Madagascar told NCR the church needed a leader "who continues the work of Paul VI."

Asked what the biggest difference between the conclave that elected John Paul II and the upcoming one, McCarrick responded: "We are coming together for the first time in 27 years," tacking an extra six months onto the time that has elapsed between the now and the last conclave.

George also expressed concerns over how the college, which draws upon 117 eligible cardinals from virtually all points of the globe, would reach a consensus using an election process invented in the Middle Ages.

"We're all learning. People learn at different speeds, in different ways. I don't know how we'll all react. I'm trying to puzzle through it myself."

Stacy Meichtry is a freelance journalist based in Rome. He is reporting and writing for NCR during this period of papal transition.

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