The National Catholic Review
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The next pope will face many challenges, some of them unprecedented in the life of the church. While the papacy is not the church, it is difficult to overestimate the influence that a pope can have on the church. Certainly John Paul II had a tremendous impact on the church and the world at the end of the 20th century. The next pope could be just as important in shaping the church in the 21st century. The pope’s influence will shape both the internal life of the church and the church’s role in the world. What kind of world will the next pope face? It is a world where the cold war is over but nuclear weapons still abound. It is a world where wars between nations can still occur but where internal conflict and terrorism are growing phenomena. It is a world of glaring economic inequalities among nations and within states. Globalization of the economy and culture is having profound effects and bringing unforeseen consequences to every corner of the earth. In this shrinking world it is essential that Christians and members of other religions, especially Muslims, live at peace. It is a world that may face rising oceans and climatic dislocations because of global warming. It is a world where mass communications and advertising are driving the consumption of resources at an exponential rate. It is a world where technological developments promise extraordinary achievements and a better life but may also bring disasters unheard of in human history. It is a world where the human person is measured and quantified but not always respected.

In short, it is a world that cries out for a prophetic voice to encourage what is good, challenge what is evil and question what is taken for granted. The next pope must do this and also empower others in the church to do likewise. The Vatican must therefore respect and trust local bishops and bishops’ conferences. The church must return to a fuller collegiality that treats bishops as more than echoes for Vatican pronouncements.

The pope also faces many challenges in the internal life of the church. At the top of the list is the shortage of priests. The time for denial is over. There are not enough priests now, and the situation is only going to get worse. A church without sacraments is not Catholic. The next pope must acknowledge that providing the Eucharist and other sacraments to the Catholic community is more important than mandatory celibacy, although voluntary celibacy is a charism for which there will always be a place in the church.

The pope will also face a growing population of educated Catholic women who feel alienated from the church. In the 19th century, the church lost working-class European males because it was on the wrong side of history. Losing educated women in the 21st century will be even more problematic, since it is most often women who pass on the faith to the next generation as educators and mothers. The church has made much progress in the treatment of women since the Second Vatican Council, but a greater sensitivity on women’s issues must be a sine qua non for the pope or anyone who attains leadership in the church. Women’s ordination must be open for discussion.

During the last couple of decades, there have been too many issues taken off the discussion table. This has been very unhealthy for the church. By some estimates, over 100 theologians have been silenced or reprimanded by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A church that cannot openly discuss issues is a church retreating into an intellectual ghetto. And the issues are many: birth control, divorce, women priests, married priests, homosexuality, the selection of bishops, the overcentralization of decision making in the Vatican, inclusive language, inculturation of the liturgy, catechetics, intercommunion and the role of the laity in church governance. There are no simple answers to these issues, and reformers must recognize that every change has both positive and negative effects. But without open discussion, church life will become more and more dysfunctional.

Ultimately, the church must find ways to make the Gospel understandable and relevant to people of the 21st century. It can no longer simply repeat formulas from previous centuries. To develop new ways to communicate the Gospel message, theologians and pastors must be given freedom to experiment, even though mistakes will be made.

In the face of so many challenges, the next pope will need our prayers. Be not afraid were words of Christ that were favorites of Blessed John Paul II. Like Blessed John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, we as a church have to be willing to go out from shore and cast our nets into the deep, trusting in Christ, who has power over the wind and the waves.

Comments

Virginia Morris | 12/6/2007 - 4:11pm
To the Current Editors: Gentlemen: This is not really a response but a comment. I have no interest in its being published. My son "pointed" me to this article/editorial. I think that the editorial is excellent and that it brings up some points that many of us should think about and talk about, even though the topics are in many cases uncomfortable. I am a cradle Catholic and an old lady; I was raised in the 1940's and 1950's. I grew up with the idea that the clergy ran the Church, and that the duties of the rest of us encompassed attending Mass, receiving the sacraments, giving lots of money, and not much more. I was in college at the time of Vatican II. Although I was quite immature at the time, and admittedly can do without some "modern" innovations like "liturgical dancers", I have come to realize as I have aged that Vatican II had a much greater effect on me than I imagined that it would. I am still a 1950's Catholic; I attend Mass and receive the sacraments; but I am not altogether comfortable with my chosen brand of Catholicity. On the other hand, since I am just a woman, I don't see any other place available to me within the Church, and I cling to the hope that the Catholic Church is at least one path to salvation. I may not be the only Catholic out here who would like the chance to engage in some kind of "multilogue" about life and the Church. I was saddened to learn about Father Reese's dismissal. From my standpoint, it feels as though the rulers of the Church are trying rather desperately to erase the very memory of Vatican II and return us to the days that led to the Avignon popes. Thank you. Virginia Benton Morris
Felipe Trujillo | 4/18/2005 - 2:48pm
"The Church must change." That is the premise many put as foundation for all theoligical study and doctrinal development. Aren't we the ones who are suppossed to change, to turk our hearts? Are not we the ones who have to change our own ways in accordance to the message of Christ entrusted to the Church? "The Church Must Change" seems to me a poor argument to start any serious theological discussion. Certainly there are things and aspects in the Catholic Church that need either to be changed or improved, but these are mainly related to the discipline of the Church, not to the doctrine.

That suggestion--even if not clear-- to the issue of ordination of women is purely a waste of time and energy. It's not going to happen, even if there are fewer priests, or even if some claim the "right" of women to ordination. Remember that NO ONE has the RIGHT to be ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Therefore, to think that the Church may sometime change Her doctrine because some of her "faithful" claim it as a right, simply makes no sense.

Barbara Garfield | 5/1/2005 - 2:21pm
I wish to thank Rev. Leonard F. Villa for his letter in the May 2 issue of America. After reading the editorial on the challenges for the new Pope, I planned to cancel my subscription or definitely not renew. I wonder if the views that birth control, divorce, women priests, homosexuality, etc. should be openly discussed is the view of the Jesuit community. I consider open discussion to mean the possibility of change in the Church. Father Villa strongly stated my view as well.
louis d sasselli | 4/20/2005 - 7:24pm
The Holy Spirit and his Cardinals have made sure that what you hope will happen will not. The monthly HIV Tsunami which kills tens of thousands of Africans and Asian will continue to occur. Unwanted children in South and Central America will continued to be brought up on the street of their large cities will go unchecked. And more and more parishes here at home will go without priest to bring the Sacraments to us.

Bendict has made it clear over the last 20 years exactly were he stand and I personally find it frustrating that we have a glutless group of leaders who had a hand in the continuation of a church that will not enter into a dialogue of the many problems confronting the church today.

The Holy Spirit has enabled us to survive now through two milleniums and I am sure we will survive this time.

German Otalora | 4/16/2005 - 11:48pm
Congratulations. An excellent position article on the challenges facing the Church in the XXI Century. I would add the fight on poverty somehow postponed by the late Pope by suffocating the liberation theology. Jesus had a preference for the poor.
Robert Stickney | 4/19/2005 - 3:02pm
Pope Benedict XVI will defiantly have a lot of challenges facing him. Based on knowledge of his past, these challenges may not be addressed in the most open manner. I don’t advocate that the church must change, but as the article said, “there have been too many issues taken off the table. This has been very unhealthy for the church.” Discussion is very important because it brings about learning on both sides. Closing discussions on important issues increases the disconnect between the church and the societies of the USA and Europe. This is particularly troubling right now since there also is a disconnect between the wealthily and the poor. This disconnect is just as apparent inside the US as it is in the world. I see a great opportunity for the church grow theologically and numerically by actively discussing the tricky theological issues and by pushing a political platform of social justice globally.

I pray that Pope Benedict XVI will be filled with the holy spirit and open his mind to all the great ways the church can grow.

Evangelos Stavrakas | 4/18/2005 - 11:01pm
Your article is certainly comprhensive in its scope and I can't take exception to any of the points contained therein. As an American Catholic I am apprehensive about the method that the new Pope will employ in addressing these issues. I was thrilled by the Vatican Council launched by the beloved Pope John XX111, YET HERE WE ARE INTO THE 21ST CENTURY, and there has not been much follow through. I am torn between wanting changes for the role of women and expanding the number of Priests to include a wider range of persons, and the problems associated with birth-control and abortion issues. As you know American Catholics are sorely split over the latter two issues, but are accepting of enlarginbg the circle of potlential candidates for the priesthood. I sorely regret not being able to succinctly make my concern evident. I wonder to what degree does the position of such a large number of members of the Body of Christ in America make a case for birth-control in the face of the Church's firmly repeated position. I do not believe any Catholic denies the intrinsic evil of abortion, but many believe that we do not have the moral imperitive to force a woman to accept our position. I am worried that I am in error but my conscience does not agree with the Church on these issues. I was heartbroken when this issue was raised during the Bush-Kerry campaign and some Bishop took the position( per the fallible news media) that they would deny the Eucharist to any politician who was not anti-abortion. Thank you for giving me a vehicle to vent my spleen so to speak.
(Msgr.) James E. Mortimer | 2/16/2007 - 2:49pm
A recent issue of America disturbed me very much (4/25). That you would publish an editorial telling the new pope how he should conduct the church founded on St. Peter by Jesus Christ himself and entertain further statements by some of the church’s leading dissenters makes me wonder how committed the editorial staff is to the magisterium of the Catholic Church.

I have been reading America for more than 50 years. This recent issue won’t cause me to stop, but I surely hope that you show our new Holy Father the respect he deserves as the choice of the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who gifted all priests, Jesuits included, with the awesome and humbling power of holy orders. And I believe you men still take a fourth vow of obedience to the pope. Try to keep that in mind in future issues of America.

(Rev.) Leonard F. Villa | 2/16/2007 - 2:20pm
Your editorial on the challenges facing the new pope was truly astounding (4/25). You mention the “influence” the new pope will have on the church. Influence? The pope is not some chairman of the board, he’s Christ’s vicar and bishop of the Catholic Church, as the documents of the Second Vatican Council indicate. Why won’t you mention the authority of the pope?

You mention a number of burning issues to which there are no “simple answers.” Yes there are. Contraception, homosexual acts and divorce are wrong. Check out the catechism. This is part of Catholic moral teaching. The issue of women priests has been decided. Laity as governing in the church? That goes against Lumen Gentium. This is part of Catholic doctrinal teaching.

Inclusive language? In the Credo there is nothing about belief in secular feminist agendas. Women’s issues? That’s been talked and addressed to death. But there is a real crisis of men in the church that is so large it’s like the elephant in the sacristy. Your editorial is simply a call to create a “church” defined by the secular culture. I think any pope would reject this.

Felipe Trujillo | 4/18/2005 - 2:48pm
"The Church must change." That is the premise many put as foundation for all theoligical study and doctrinal development. Aren't we the ones who are suppossed to change, to turk our hearts? Are not we the ones who have to change our own ways in accordance to the message of Christ entrusted to the Church? "The Church Must Change" seems to me a poor argument to start any serious theological discussion. Certainly there are things and aspects in the Catholic Church that need either to be changed or improved, but these are mainly related to the discipline of the Church, not to the doctrine.

That suggestion--even if not clear-- to the issue of ordination of women is purely a waste of time and energy. It's not going to happen, even if there are fewer priests, or even if some claim the "right" of women to ordination. Remember that NO ONE has the RIGHT to be ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Therefore, to think that the Church may sometime change Her doctrine because some of her "faithful" claim it as a right, simply makes no sense.

Barbara Garfield | 5/1/2005 - 2:21pm
I wish to thank Rev. Leonard F. Villa for his letter in the May 2 issue of America. After reading the editorial on the challenges for the new Pope, I planned to cancel my subscription or definitely not renew. I wonder if the views that birth control, divorce, women priests, homosexuality, etc. should be openly discussed is the view of the Jesuit community. I consider open discussion to mean the possibility of change in the Church. Father Villa strongly stated my view as well.
louis d sasselli | 4/20/2005 - 7:24pm
The Holy Spirit and his Cardinals have made sure that what you hope will happen will not. The monthly HIV Tsunami which kills tens of thousands of Africans and Asian will continue to occur. Unwanted children in South and Central America will continued to be brought up on the street of their large cities will go unchecked. And more and more parishes here at home will go without priest to bring the Sacraments to us.

Bendict has made it clear over the last 20 years exactly were he stand and I personally find it frustrating that we have a glutless group of leaders who had a hand in the continuation of a church that will not enter into a dialogue of the many problems confronting the church today.

The Holy Spirit has enabled us to survive now through two milleniums and I am sure we will survive this time.

German Otalora | 4/16/2005 - 11:48pm
Congratulations. An excellent position article on the challenges facing the Church in the XXI Century. I would add the fight on poverty somehow postponed by the late Pope by suffocating the liberation theology. Jesus had a preference for the poor.
Robert Stickney | 4/19/2005 - 3:02pm
Pope Benedict XVI will defiantly have a lot of challenges facing him. Based on knowledge of his past, these challenges may not be addressed in the most open manner. I don’t advocate that the church must change, but as the article said, “there have been too many issues taken off the table. This has been very unhealthy for the church.” Discussion is very important because it brings about learning on both sides. Closing discussions on important issues increases the disconnect between the church and the societies of the USA and Europe. This is particularly troubling right now since there also is a disconnect between the wealthily and the poor. This disconnect is just as apparent inside the US as it is in the world. I see a great opportunity for the church grow theologically and numerically by actively discussing the tricky theological issues and by pushing a political platform of social justice globally.

I pray that Pope Benedict XVI will be filled with the holy spirit and open his mind to all the great ways the church can grow.

Evangelos Stavrakas | 4/18/2005 - 11:01pm
Your article is certainly comprhensive in its scope and I can't take exception to any of the points contained therein. As an American Catholic I am apprehensive about the method that the new Pope will employ in addressing these issues. I was thrilled by the Vatican Council launched by the beloved Pope John XX111, YET HERE WE ARE INTO THE 21ST CENTURY, and there has not been much follow through. I am torn between wanting changes for the role of women and expanding the number of Priests to include a wider range of persons, and the problems associated with birth-control and abortion issues. As you know American Catholics are sorely split over the latter two issues, but are accepting of enlarginbg the circle of potlential candidates for the priesthood. I sorely regret not being able to succinctly make my concern evident. I wonder to what degree does the position of such a large number of members of the Body of Christ in America make a case for birth-control in the face of the Church's firmly repeated position. I do not believe any Catholic denies the intrinsic evil of abortion, but many believe that we do not have the moral imperitive to force a woman to accept our position. I am worried that I am in error but my conscience does not agree with the Church on these issues. I was heartbroken when this issue was raised during the Bush-Kerry campaign and some Bishop took the position( per the fallible news media) that they would deny the Eucharist to any politician who was not anti-abortion. Thank you for giving me a vehicle to vent my spleen so to speak.

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