Published on February 18th, 2013 | by Angela Cotta0
POLL: Pope Resigns, Students and Faculty Respond
Angela Cotta, Religion Editor
Joey Preston, Contributor
On Monday, Feb. 28, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation will take effect, resulting in the Catholic Church having to search for a new leader.
The pontiff cited age and deteriorating health as reasons for his decision to resign. A pope has not stepped down from office since the 1400s, so Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation creates a unique historical situation and leaves many unanswered questions.
“I was really surprised when I heard that the pope was resigning because I had never heard of a pope voluntarily giving up his papacy before,” said junior social work major Natalie Asp. “I give him a lot of credit for admitting that he could no longer adequately hold the office effectively.”
With the Catholic Church being one of the largest bodies of faith in the world, the Holy Father’s resignation is of great concern on a global level. The Church has a following of approximately 1 billion followers, so the papacy, though not a political office, is an office constantly involved in dialogue with nations, both religious and secular, around the world.
“Because the pope is such a highly visible world figure, his resignation will carry important political considerations,” said Valerie Perry Rendel, Ph.D., assistant professor of English. “Any change in leadership in an organization as large and influential as the Catholic Church should be of interest to anyone who understands the importance faith plays in the personal, social, economic and political lives of many people. Even secular folks (maybe especially secular folks) should understand the different perspectives that shape our communities.”
At the local level, a papal election concerns the Lewis community.
“The resignation of any pope affects the Lewis University community because, as a Catholic school, we are affected by decisions that are made by the spiritual leader of the Catholic community,” said Dominic Colonna, Ph.D., and chair and professor of the theology department.
Because there is not a need for a period of mourning, due to resignation and not a death, the Cardinals at the Vatican can immediately move forward with the papal electoral process. Around the world, individuals are suggesting the Cardinals will seriously consider electing a pope from a continent other than Europe. Every pope for the past several centuries has been Italian except for the late Blessed John Paul II, who was Polish, and Pope Benedict XVI, who is German.
“I heard someone on the radio say that it is time to elect a Pope from South America or Africa, two continents that have very strong Catholic populations, and I agree,” Perry Rendel said. “I hope the next leader the Church selects is able to bring a message of unity and peace to a world that needs it very much.”
During a papal election, the Cardinals form a conclave in the Sistine Chapel and submit ballots to elect a new pope. The election process is quite complex and continues until there are only two Cardinals in the running. Those two Cardinals do not participate in the final vote.
The newly elected pope has the option to accept or reject the conclave’s decision. Rejections are a rarity. If a decision is not reached, the ballots are burned so that the faithful knows there was not been a decision. When the elected pope accepts the decision, the conclave burns special incense that gives off a white smoke signaling the faithful “habemus papem,” which in translation means “we have a pope!”
This conclave of Cardinals bears great responsibility in that it will have to make decisions that hold great weight for any Catholic, including Catholics at Lewis.
“A new pope might or might not take an active interest in topics that affect life at Lewis directly,” Colonna said. “However, general teachings can affect our community indirectly. For example, Benedict’s interest in the New Evangelization movement (and a perceived threat from ‘secular’ society), liturgy, relationships between different religious traditions, conformity to traditional teachings, and the reception of the Second Vatican Council informed and inspired conversations in our classes and at public events.”
Students also recognize the gravity of the situation.
“I think the current Cardinals have a lot of reflection and tough decisions ahead of them,” Asp said. “I hope the Cardinals can make the right choice as to who the successor should be despite this unexpected development.”
Kelly Schreiber is a senior double majoring in secondary education and English. She is living in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, for the Spring 2013 semester and is student teaching at a Catholic school. Schreiber explained that the language barrier caused some confusion, and that she and one of her American friends were unsure of the story’s truth initially.
“When I found out that the pope really had resigned, I was sad and concerned for him,” Schreiber said. “I think it is brave of Pope Benedict to step down if he no longer feels he can lead the Church, and I’m confident that the Church will choose a new pontiff who will lead us well.”
Schreiber observed that the Brazilian media seems to be utilizing all forms of communication to share the story, including televisions found on city buses.
The pope’s resignation will make the next few weeks, months and maybe even years a particularly turbulent time for the Catholic Church and for political and religious leaders around the world.