Sede vacante, vacant seat. No one is sitting on the throne of the Bishop of Rome, lately Pope Benedict XVI, who has retired. His successor will have several roles to fill: spiritual, diplomatic, administrative and that of referee for conservatives and liberals, at a time of historic great strain in the Church.
The College of Cardinals will choose the next leader of the planet’s 1.2 billion Catholic faithful.
Among those considered a fair prospect for the job are Italy’s Angelo Scola, Canada’s Marc Oullet, Brazil’s Odilo Scherer, Ghana’s Peter Turkson and the US’s Timothy Dolan. But the field is wide open.
It is thought the cardinals will want to narrow it down to one in time for Easter.
Among the pressures the new appointee will face, are mounting public demands to crack down meaningfully on priests accused of sexual abuse; many accusations and substantial evidence have piled up, far and wide, over a long time, including Church cover-ups.
The world will watch if the cardinals’ Chosen has the courage and energy to take the bull by the horns. The Vatileaks scandal also exposed allegations of corruption in the religious microstate’s civil service. They have plenty to talk about.
In his final group farewell to the inner circle of Catholic power, Benedict swore “unconditional reverence and obedience’‘ to the new pope who would emerge.
When the holy smoke signal does go up – after the closed-door conclave, and we still don’t have the date for that, but the smoke signals a decision – the horizon will be cloudy.
The oldest cardinal in the papal conclave, Turin’s Archbishop Emeritus Severino Poletto is about to turn 80. He voted in 2005 when Benedict was elected. Now he has bid him goodbye and it is time to choose his successor. One of correspondents in Rome asked him about his personal views.
Manuela Scarpellini, euronews: “Cardinal, we’re at the end of a historic, unprecedented and very human pontificate. How has this moment affected you?”
Severino Poletto, Cardinal-Archbishop Emeritus of Turin: “I feel a great admiration and emotion towards Pope Benedict XVI, for his great gesture of courage and humility and love for the Church and Jesus Christ. At the general audience he said he had thought about this, prayed and tried to comprehend. He said he knew his action was serious, and that he had taken it in great serenity, because he had put Jesus and the good of the Church before his own.”
euronews: “During the conclave, you will all have to take into account sensitive matters that the next pope will have to face: paedophilia, obscure financing and Vatileaks. Will all that complicate your choice?”
Poletto: “I don’t believe so, since we must choose the best. We must ask God, who inspires us in our choice, God who has already chosen. God already knows who the new pope is. Therefore, we must not exaggerate the problems that the Church has had, as there is a lot of exaggeration. I do not deny that there are problems. Even the pope asked for forgiveness. He said he was ashamed of these errors, and certainly suffered in the affair of the leaked documents. But these are actions which are part of the history of human creatures, even ecclesiastical figures, who can have weaknesses. But these are not to be generalised. They do not impose conditions on choosing a person. The choice of the person has to be motivated by a spiritual vision of man suggested to us by God, and which I don’t yet have in mind: I have a clean slate in front of me. The man who God suggests to us, with his spirituality, his faith, his cultural and pastoral preparedness must be capable of steering the Church on the road of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”
euronews: “Will this take a long time, possibly because of internal divisions among the cardinals?”
Poletto: “It is of my opinion that internal divisions in the College of Cardinals are an invention of journalists, since immediately following the day on which the resignation announcement was made, which is to say on February 12, certain Italian newspapers were already discussing groups – candidates.”
euronews: “The Congregations of Cardinals are about to be launched, to reflect on the future. How do you see the Church of tomorrow?”
Poletto: “The Church I dream of – but it already does this – is one which spreads the Gospels. The outgoing pope, Benedict who has resigned, who will always remain in our memory as a pope, decreed last year to be the year of faith, called a synod on evangelisation last year, expressly to remind everyone of the responsibility of spreading the Gospels anew, to prevent a weakening of the faith, especially in our countries which have a very long Catholic tradition, like Europe has.”
euronews: “What do you say to the last and next popes?”
Poletto: “I salute them with affection, gratitude and emotion for the elevated work in their ministry. My wish for the coming pope is that he be rich in grace, that he feel the support of the spirit of God, the grace of God – and that he also feel the common force of all of us behind him.”
euronews: “Will there be a new pope for Easter?”
Poletto: “That still leaves a month. I hope that the preparation work of the Congregations of the Conclave will not last more than a month. It would cause problems if it went on for longer than that. This is what I hope, anyway.”