World prepares for a new pope, waiting for smoke

by Connor Soudani

The news shocked the international community.  For the first time in over 600 years, the leader of roughly 50 percent of the 2 billion Christians on the planet resigned his role in the church.  Former Pope Benedict XVI has cited “advanced age” as his reason for leaving his post as the face of the Catholic church.

The first question for the world to ponder now is this: What will go into the selection of the new pope and what will Catholics need from him?

Karin Heller, a Catholic professor in the theology department, said that this is a huge opportunity for the Catholic church to capitalize on reform.

“I think the church really needs an urgent reform of the structure of the church and of the Vatican in particular,” Heller said.  “The strongly centralized church is really a problem, but the Vatican will have to give up a little bit of its power and decentralize that, giving more power to the national bishops conferences.”

Additionally, Heller called for a  change to the Catholic church’s traditional structure.

“I think the church would need a constitution,” Heller said. “Because if the texts of the second Vatican council are really inspired by God, I think … you have to give the people of God the opportunity to take part in that power, just as the American people take part in the power of their government.”

On the other hand, Patrick Van Inwegen, a Catholic professor of political science, said he believes that the biggest challenge the new pope will face will be adapting to the shift in geographical church population.  In addition, Van Inwegen believes that the Catholic population of Europe and the U.S. will come into play as well.

“In Africa and Latin America [the Catholic Church] is growing, but the structure is set up so that people in Europe and North America are making the decisions,” Van Inwegen said. “The College of Cardinals is dominated by Europeans and so the choice of who is going to be pope is going to be made mostly by Europeans.  Dealing with that kind of change, depending on how long the [pope] is there will be one of the bigger issues to deal with.”

The Pew Research Forum conducted research in 2010 which revealed the ten countries with the largest Catholic populations.  Brazil was ranked number one with an estimated 126,750,000 Catholics, followed by Mexico with 96,450,000 and the Philippines with 75,570,000.  Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were also high on the list.

This information demonstrates a shift from 1910. Then, the research showed that the only two of the countries mentioned above made the list, Brazil and the Philippines, with France and Italy taking the top two spots.

In an interview with CNN, Rev. Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta, discussed the possibility of a pope representing a larger majority of the Catholic population.

“I think the question is ‘What does the office need?’  I don’t believe that the first question should be culture, language, etc.,  but what does the office need and who is the candidate best qualified to step into that position based on the analysis of the needs of the time,” Gregory said.

However, the Archbishop said he does not believe selection of the pope should directly come down to the issue of population representation.

“The vote is not over who has the greatest clout, the vote is over who is in the best position to govern the church universally, and that person may come from a developing country, it may come from a country that we don’t even have in focus yet,” Gregory said.

The fact that Benedict XVI left office on account of “advanced age” at 85 years old raises the question of whether an age limit should now be placed on the office of the pope.

In the same interview on CNN, Gregory mentioned the question of the Pope’s age.

“[There is] the fact that the code of canon law already has a provision for any pope to consider bringing his service to conclusion,” Gregory said. “It’s there and he employed it, which says an awful lot about him, but also speaks well of the provisions the law already has in place.”

Senior Kayla Sisk, who converted to Catholicism last year, said she felt that there are certain things, in her opinion, that the next Pope needs to do.

“[I want to see] a pope who understands people, because I don’t feel like we’re going to get anywhere just spouting out what the church teaches and doctrine necessarily without having first empathy and understanding for the people we’re addressing,” Sisk said.

In addition, Sisk draws on her faith in Christ as a determinant in deciding the right way to go.

“There’s a very difficult line to walk between being apathetic and understanding people while still holding on to the truth,” Sisk said. “You don’t want either extreme, you want the middle ground where you’re doing both, like Christ did.”

The days continue to pass while the world waits for white smoke to flood the chimneys of the Vatican to announce the selection of a new pope. The world will soon discover if there will be a European pope, an ethnically diverse one; a traditional, or a progressive.

Contact Connor Soudani at

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