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The New Pope Should Be a Priest

Symbolized by the three-tiered papal crown, the traditional functions of the papal office are king (ruler - servant), prophet (teacher), and priest (reconciler- healer). These three functions are inseparable. Still, different times call for different emphases. What Catholics need now is a pope who is first and foremost a priest - someone who can reconcile and relate to all facets of our truly global religious community.From the fourth century until the late nineteenth century, the catholicity of the church was deeply political in nature. It was intertwined with the church's status as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and some successor nations. The pope was a king among kings, although his rule was spiritual as well as temporal.After the decisive loss of its temporal power, the prophetic function of the papacy became most prominent, as successive popes emphasized their roles as universally authoritative teacher son matters of faith and morals. But recent scandals have undermined their moral authority - it's very difficult to trust the official pronouncements of an organization that conspired to cover up the sexual abuse of children and young people.The sense of betrayal over the sex abuse crisis is palpable, not only in the United States, but in other countries as well, such as Ireland and Germany. The alienation is spreading like a lethal Florida sinkhole, Doubling down on ruling and teaching isn't going to help. It will only make the earth crumble more quickly beneath our feet. The pope needs shift focus, to nurture a strong but flexible global network of solidarity that will stitch together the gaping hole in the heart of the church, allowing it to begin to heal.Here's an example: In 2006 and in 2010, I attended two conferences on "Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church," the brainchild of James Keenan, S.J., the Founders Professor of Moral Theology at Boston College. It's one thing to know abstractly that American Catholics constitute less than ten percent of the world church; it's another thing spend four days talking to five hundred Catholic moralists from over fifty countries around the globe. Talking to African theologians, in particular, I came to see how my assumptions about the proper role of individual autonomy and how best to promote the dignity of women were too deeply entangled in Western cultural presuppositions. Modern air travel brought us all together, post-modern internet connections allowed us to continue the conversation after we all went home. All participants were energized--and humbled--by the realization that we were part of a church that was globally catholic--not just Roman Catholic.What would happen if the new Pope encouraged these sorts of networks and connections among the Catholic faithful as a whole? What would happen if dioceses in North America and Europe were paired with dioceses in Africa and Asia? In addition to fostering solidarity across cultural and economic lines, it could enable new ways of priests working with laity and men working with women. In fact, we might just begin to understand ourselves as a globalized body of Christ. And that, in turn, might help us to heal.

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I hope he cardinal-electors spend some time pondering Luke's version of the calling of Peter (5:1.8), and Jesus's advice to go out into the deep, away from the safety of the rules that have kept him near shore and given him a fish-less night. I don't think it's just about risk-taking, though that's part of it; it's also about looking beyond one's own parochial horizons.

I had a very similar experience at a conference almost a decade ago, presenting on a panel with a Canadian Jesuit who had lived in every part of the habitable world. My presentation was about finding a way out of the 'wafer wars' problem, a more prudent political path for the Church, etc. As our panel broke, he started a conversation with me by saying, "Your paper was excellent. But you should understand that this is just an American problem. The rest of the world worries about other things." What an eye-opener. I'm still grateful to him. Indeed, let us hope that this new beginning can be an opening for the universality of our universal church.

I suppose all of the popes tend to favor one of the three tendencies. I would agree that Benedict was a teacher more so than a ruler or a healer (although he didn't neglect the latter). An argument could be made that John Paul II was a healer, in his many travels, and in his outreach initiatives. He did seem to have a blind spot regarding the sex-abuse scandals, though.

Jim, could you please elaborate? Why do you see Benedict as a "healer" in any sense of the word? Clearly we all look through the individual prisms of our own lives and understandings. Many see Benedict as a very divisive popes wonder if the damage done by him as pope and during his tenure at CDF will ever be "healed."

Alas, whoever is elected will be human, probably all too human. The last pope who didn't suffer horribly from that condition was John XXIII. Much has been made of his self-deprecating humor and rightly so. It was genuine and reflected his attitude that he was not the greatest since Jesus Christ himself. Too many recent popes had little sense of humor about themselves or anyone else and did seem to act as if they were the greatest since JC.If popes thought of themselves as the Vicar of Peter, rather than the Vicar of Christ, we might get a bit more of a reality check on their sense of self and self-importance.

Following on Margaret's comment. It would be most desirable if the next pope were to follow the advice that Cardinal Suenens is supposed to have given Pope John Paul II upon his election. Suenens is supposed to have said something like"Remember that the most important day in your life is not today, but was the day you were baptized." All else is secondary and everything emanating from the pope, or any of us, ought to bear clear witness to that elementary truth.

I appreciate the fact that we view Catholicism (as everything else) through the prism of our Western culture and that Catholic leaders in all spheres need to understand that Western issues are not necessarily universal issues for every part of the world. That is understandable.I also appreciate that the greatest growth or population of Catholics is in the developing world.That said, St. Ignatius, in a section that I still find disquieting, suggested that those who wish to spread the word, go first to those highly placed where there would be the possibility of the greatest multiplier effect. Part of me still recoils at that but the other world-weary and wiser part of me concedes that this, indeed, is the way of the world. We don't make the rules but we have to play by them. Although, there is a prophetic call to change the rules too but, that is the idealist in me.The point is that a pope, in order to lead the universal church, needs to be able to have access to and to access the levers of power. Those levers are and remain in the Western world and, in particular, the United States. English is the dominant language now and we need someone who is fluent in English. Again, it is clear that power resides in the West and with English language. So following St. Ignatius' dictum, we require someone adept in the ways of the West. The Church (in the east and west) has always known that institutional survival depends on "Caesar" and today "Caesar" is not in Rome. And he is not in Latin America or Africa either.I am not saying I agree but the alternative is Bonhoeffer's religionless Christianity which I think we are not ready for at the moment.

Anne C - what I had in mind in stating that Benedict had a healer dimension, were his meetings with victims of sexual abuse, and his outreach to Orthodox.

Editing correction to earlier post: Many see Benedict as a very divisive pope and wonder....

in particular, I came to see how my assumptions about the proper role of individual autonomy and how best to promote the dignity of women were too deeply entangled in Western cultural presuppositions. Don't the resolutions of the united nations that have been ratified by most countries give us guidelines on what is acceptable globally?

Ms. S. --About Pope John XXIII's humility -- My father was in the Marist seminary with Fr. Joseph Buckley who was later a highly respected professor of theology at our local seminary. Fr. Buckley became a dear family friend. A particularly able man, he subsequently became Superior General of the Marist order world-wide, and, with a very select few, he was made a non-voting member of Vatican II. He wasn't a bishop, but he even gave some important speeches to the Council explaining the thought of John Courtney Murray. So I assume he was well-acquainted with the clerical culture of Rome.I remember saying to him after Vatican II that, "Pope John was such a humble man, I'm sure he never wanted to be pope". Well, Fr. Buckley went into gales of laughter, saying "Didn't want to be pope??? Didn't want to be pope??? They ALLLLLLL want to be pope!!!!!!!"

"All participants were energizedand humbledby the realization that we were part of a church that was globally catholicnot just Roman Catholic.'Our parish for the last 5 years has been a place of four equal parts of English speakers, half Black and half White, a quarter each of Spanish speakers , Vietnamese, and Tagalog speaking Filipinos. Peg keeps saying this must be what heaven is like. This 5 years of integration has changed our Catholic stance in remarkable ways. And there is no going back to more comfortable but less spiritual stances..... Cathleen K must have experienced this at her conference.

Jim, his meetings with victims of sexual abuse came across as photo-op/spin rather something to promote real healing. Empty words it turned out. He failed to take the actions that might have led to real healing - holding at least a few bishops accountable for their failure to protect the young while enabling continued sexual abuse of the young. He also could have honestly repented for the role Rome played in "forming" the decisions of the bishops to protect an institution and priests rather than the young. There was no real healing because of what he failed to do when the world's press wasn't around. As far as his outreach to the Orthodox goes, few in the west paid much attention to that (sorry - but that's the reality). He also reached out to disaffected Anglicans with great hoopla and fanfare (primarily because they, like Benedict, fear ordaining women to be priests) as well as to the schismatics, the Society of Pius X, while continuing to discipline, silence and even excommunicate progressive priests, theologians and at least one bishop (Morris of Australia). These actions, taken both as pope and as head of the CDF, caused great damage to the unity of the church and if the next pope does not take genuine healing actions (rather than the empty words we heard from Benedict on the sexual abuse of the young), the divisions caused by Benedict and his predecessor may become permanent.

George D.: Now I know where Karl Rahner got his suggestion in The Shape of the Church to Come, that the Church not spend its limited resources in trying to retain people in "the old Christianity":

"It means more to win one new Christian from what we may call neopaganism than to keep ten 'old Christians'" (p. 32). "If we have only very limited resources for the foreign missions, it is certainly permissible to assign the greater part to the mission to those people who represent the greater historical potential for the future of the world and to leave other people simply to God's grace, which is anyway mightier than the Church: thus, for example, it is better to send missionaries to Japan than to the Eskimos.... To win one new man of tomorrow for the faith is more important for the Church than to keep in the faith two men of yesterday: the latter will be saved by God's grace even if the present and future way of proclaiming the faith makes them insecure" (pp. 49-50).

This is a post right on the money and, in my opinion, what you should be doing as a theologian, Cathy; reminding leaders that they should always be reforming themselves. Perhaps, more importantly, to continually apply the pressure for reform. The central organization in Rome can be kept as a way to unify the church and having the "people of God" keep in constant collaboration and support with each other. Modern communication makes this very doable. But the idea of a state and papal ambassadors should be scrapped. Or perhaps made better use of in advocating for the poor and downtrodden. Could church reps insure that the politicization of food be thwarted and enable food and aid to get to the needy. This way the constant drumbeat that leaders are the "servants of the servants of the Lord" will be true.Right now pomposity is much more visible than Matthew 25. A new pope would have difficulty changing things. The main reason is that the charisms in the church are a farce. Theologians and pastors/bishops have to raise their consciousness levels on a par with the gospel.

Ann, this is funny: "There was no real healing because of what he failed to do when the worlds press wasnt around. As far as his outreach to the Orthodox goes, few in the west paid much attention to that (sorry but thats the reality). "On the one hand, his meeting with sexual abuse victims does not count in his favor because it was only done when the press was around. On the other hand, his outreach to the Orthodox does not count in his favor because it was only done when the press wasn't around. He just couldn't do anything right, could he? Or could it be that your (our) general frustration with his record gives you a little bit of a slant?

The tiara went out with Pope Paul VI (although the Lefebvrites would like to see it restored). Since then two other things went out of all the hoopla connected with the election of a pope. Pope Benedict's election was announced without the chant some of us remembered: "Annuntio vobis GAUDIUM MAGNUM! HABEMUS PAPAM!" And somewhere along the line was dropped the little ritual in which a little piece of kindling was lit and quickly died and there was heard the lesson to the new pope: "Pater sancte, SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI!" [Holy Father, that's how quickly the world's glory passes!] I'd love to see these restored, but then I'm one of those who will be terribly disappointed if no trumpet announces the end of all things...

Claire - "He just couldnt do anything right, could he?" Hmmm, Yes, - now that I think about it, I'd have to say "You're correct." I'll keep thinking about it, but right now it doesn't seem that his papacy accomplished anything really "right". He changed some things, but .....But you, however, are absolutely right - my frustration definitely influences my take (slant) on it. BTW, his meetings with the Orthodox were covered by the press. I even read some of the stories, but not many were really interested in reading the stories, including my very close friend who is Orthodox. That's what I was referring to - it wasn't really "newsworthy" for the general reading/tv watching audience. It didn't sell papers or boost the nielsen ratings - unlike the ongoing and too often newsworthy saga of ever more revelations of bishops protecting abusers (Mahoney, FInn, every bishop who has been boss in Philly forever [it seems], etc ). Too bad - he could have done so much and been a healer not only for the tens of thousands of victims, but also for the rest of us who left in disgust. All of us have to confess for "what we have done, and what we have failed to do." The pope failed to heal the crisis caused by the protection by the hierarchy and Rome of sexual abusers of kids.

Sorry for misspelling your name, Anne.

"Symbolized by the three-tiered papal crown, the traditional functions of the papal office are king (ruler servant), prophet (teacher), and priest (reconciler- healer)."What is your source on this, Cathy? This description seems bogus to me, a modern gloss derived from the baptismal rite. It doesn't square with the historical symbolism of the papal tiara as a sign of temporal rule. The papal tiara is a symbol that was set aside, as has been mentioned, by Pope Paul VI, who sold it and gave the money to the poor. If it really symbolized all the lofty things you've said, I don't think it would have been given away.Most of all, I question the appropriateness of taking it to symbolize the same things that the anointing after baptism symbolizes. The three-fold ministry of the bishop is teaching, sanctifying and governing. But, of course, bishops' miters don't have three crowns. Again, I'd appreciate knowing your source.

Talking to African theologians, in particular, I came to see how my assumptions about the proper role of individual autonomy and how best to promote the dignity of women were too deeply entangled in Western cultural presuppositions. Could you explain that? It can mean many things...

"BTW, his meetings with the Orthodox were covered by the press. I even read some of the stories, but not many were really interested in reading the stories, including my very close friend who is Orthodox. Thats what I was referring to it wasnt really newsworthy for the general reading/tv watching audience. It didnt sell papers or boost the nielsen ratings unlike the ongoing and too often newsworthy saga of ever more revelations of bishops protecting abusers "This is something that Cardinal George has noted more than once - the things that drive the church's mission and activities are not the same things that drive the mass media industry. What gets reported by the media is what overlaps. When the mass media becomes our primary filter for apprehending the church, we don't get a full picture of the church. It's just a fact of modern life. The church leadership needs to accept that fact, and needs to learn to leverage the media. I hope the American cardinals have learned the lesson during this conclave that being available to reporters and cultivating relationships with them is a prerequisite. Nor can it permit messaging mediated by the mass media distort its mission.

"What would happen if the new Pope encouraged these sorts of networks and connections among the Catholic faithful as a whole? What would happen if dioceses in North America and Europe were paired with dioceses in Africa and Asia?"Hi, Cathleen, as I'm sure you know, in the wake of a synod of the bishops of the Americas, John Paul II issued the exhortation Ecclesia in America in which he urged the sort of cross-regional / cross-cultural bridge-building that you're proposing. The event itself came about during a visit by JPII to Santo Domingo. I bring this up because this seems to me the sort of concrete actions that a pope can do to foster what you're proposing: a pope can model the connection-making by physically going to visit those places, and he can urge/exhort the rest of us to make connections that are appropriate to our ways of discipleship. In your case, it could be by attending academic conferences, by teaching it in the classroom, and by doing scholarly writing about it. In my case, it could be by preaching about it, and by helping to facilitate the connection-making among laypeople - perhaps by raising funds for mission trips.I'm wondering if you have ideas of other things that can be done, and that popes can do that haven't already been done.

Moving one step from MSO's comment: The Vicar of Peter is a nice myth, but way too exalting. If popes would see themselves more like Harry Truman -- an ordinary person who happened to end up in a big job -- the catholic world wouold be a better place.

Associating the priesthood with the ministry of reconciliation is also a questionable assumption. The faithful have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16-20). It doesn't belong to priests, per se, except as they participate in the calling of the whole church. Sanctification, OK, that I would buy as "priestly."Stepping back from the details of the post, however, I disagree with the main contention raised here: that the thing we most need in the pope today is someone who will devote himself to reconciliation. I suppose I have become persuaded by the repeated train wrecks in liturgy, moral theology, and public relations, that the key problem is governance. No matter how many goodwill tours the pope makes, no matter his personal warmth or kindness to opposing factions, if the structures of governance do not become more participatory, and more accommodating of pastoral realities, it will not avail. We've seen the results of an emphasis on reconciliation from the top -- the saga of the SSPX, and Pope Benedict's passion to reconcile them. He did everything humanly possible for a pope to do, and what happened? Second, in the aftermath of the gutting of episcopal conferences, and a heavy push toward centralization of authority in Rome, I am suspicious of "world church" strategies that neglect the need to cultivate strong local churches. The post asks for the new pope to encourage global networks. The Church has already encouraged global networks. They are called "the movements" and they have pushed a good bit of church life out of the hands of bishops and into personal prelatures and the like. Globalization in economic life has resulted in other entities taking power, entities not responsible to governments or the people as a whole. The same can happen in the global Church if we are not grounded in strong and vital local Churches.

Rita, you make a number of strong points, but even if local churches are strengthened, there is still a need to build bonds between them. If the "movements" you mention are not accomplishing that, then they should be reformed or supplemented or replaced.

I'm with Anne Chapman and Rita FerroneDuring my eight years of pre-Vatican II parochial schooling, the word 'priest' was associated with "mediating between God and Man" at the Mass. Offering sacrifice was the name of the game. We knew the priest had the power to forgive sins, but the sacrificial nature of ordained priesthood was emphasized. I don't recall the sisters telling us that the laity were also priests by virtue of their baptism. Dictionary.com and Wikipedia.com speak of priests in sacerdotal terms. NewAdvent.org does address the reconciling aspect of priesthood, but I don't recall this part of ordained ministry being mentioned nearly as much by the sisters as the sacrificial aspect.Given the widespread priestly sexual abuse of children, episcopal coverups and denials, and papal indifference --- all enabled by a clerical culture that elevated the ordained and subordinated the laity, I'm not convinced we should continue to embrace a special kind of priesthood different from that of the rest of us. "Priests on Pedestals", so far as I'm concerned, doesn't work; it's unhealthy. I prefer the terms (and underlying concepts) 'presbyter' or 'presider'. I no longer address RC clergy as "Father"; I prefer "Pastor" or other forms of address reflecting, perhaps, a minister's academic qualifications, etc.

"The Church has already encouraged global networks. They are called the movements and they have pushed a good bit of church life out of the hands of bishops and into personal prelatures and the like. Globalization in economic life has resulted in other entities taking power, entities not responsible to governments or the people as a whole. The same can happen in the global Church if we are not grounded in strong and vital local Churches."Excellent observation, Rita. Could it be that Dan Brown was on to something, the fiction notwithstanding?

"Symbolized by the three-tiered papal crown, the traditional functions of the papal office are king (ruler servant), prophet (teacher), and priest (reconciler- healer)."This time around, they may have chosen a deacon.

Late response to Ann @1:14. There's a sensationalism to Dan Brown's literature that I wouldn't want to endorse, but it's absolutely true that the movements march to their own drummers, and they have important friends in Rome that protect them at the expense of local oversight that might be salutary and appropriate. We've seen problems, for example, with the Legionnairies of Christ, who for a long time escaped scrutiny because the pope protected them. Then, more recently, when Archbishop O'Brien in Baltimore finally put his foot down because they'd say yes, yes, then do something else -- look what happened. Poof. He's gone to Rome to take over a fund-raising position for the knights of the holy sepulchre, I believe. Seemed a bit too much of a coincidence to me...

Rita ==I didn't mean to make any accusations against OD in particular. (I might be the one person on the planet who hasn't read The DaVinci Code.) But I think Brown is right to assume that there are always people who lust for power and will use sinful means to get it, even within churches.I think that OD and the Legionaires pose a particular problem in the Church because they restrict the independent thinking of the members severely. So far I don't know of any new group that I'd consider an unmitigated blessing, but I'm certainly no expert on them. Sadly, I think that the clergy sometimes sees them as the great new hope of the Church -- idealistic kids willing to make sacrifices. But, apparently that's no all they are.