The Roman Catholic Church is getting ready for the start of the Vatican conclave. Eight years after Joseph Ratzinger, who will soon walk out onto the balcony to be greeted by cheering crowds in St Peter’s Square? And in which direction will he lead the Catholic Church?
It is a Church in crisis and experts agree on at least one point: it needs a charismatic leader. One like John Paul II perhaps, who over the 27 years of his papacy left his mark on the institution.
Today the Church is looking for a leader who can manage the crises and invigorate the faith. In many respects Benedict XVI’s papacy continued the work of John Paul. But the world has changed and continues to do so. Sooner or later the question of reform must be tackled.
For now, one of the great challenges awaiting Benedict’s successor will be to restore confidence after the scandals that have shaken the Church for a decade. Vatileaks and its exposing of alleged corruption shed light on its darker side – but above all there have also been the cases of paedophile priests, and the Holy See’s very belated reaction which considerably damaged its image.
Disaffection with the Church has been felt more in Europe and the United States than in Africa and Asia for instance. As well as the scandals, the Vatican has had difficulty adapting to the modern world, and to the issues facing today’s society: homosexual marriage, abortion, the use of condoms, the celibacy of priests or the ordination of women.
On the last two questions, surveys suggested 73 and 67 percent respectively of Catholics were in favour of change. But the Church turns a deaf ear. They are questions which impinge on the crisis the Church is experiencing over its mission. How to rekindle an interest among the young in the priesthood?
In the early 1960s, the Second Vatican Council came to symbolise an opening up to the modern world and to contemporary culture. Vatican II is now 50 years ago and today it has left several questions unresolved.
Benedict XVI recently declared that it was too early for a Vatican III. However, will the new pope know how to modernise the institution he represents? Will he have enough charisma and a firm enough hand to give it back its shine and confidence?
euronews' Simona Volta on the cardinals' arrivals at the Vatican
The Cardinals come in dribs and drabs, some on foot, others in cars to enter the Vatican, smiling for the crowds of reporters, cameramen and photographers that await them. They're confronted with a forest of microphones all trying to steal a last word from the cardinals who now remain hidden to the rest of the world. Enclosed in a conclave that will decide who among them will take the place of Benedict XVI as Pope. When you try to approach them, jostled by the Vatican gendarmerie, the cardinals look at you and seem to want to say "I'm sorry, but I just cannot. My orders are to be silent." Then they offer a touching smile and you suspect that, perhaps, they want to let go and tell you what they're feeling inside. Because it can't be easy to undertake such a decision: a choice that will decide the future of the Catholic Church. And you imagine that maybe some of them would prefer to be a thousand kilometers away from here.
Before the voting begins in the Sistine Chapel, euronews met up with Vatican specialist Giacomo Galeazzi to get a better understanding of the Catholic Church’s future.
euronews: “Does the Church want a young pope?”
Giacomo Galeazzi: ‘The one example we have is Karol Wojtyła who was elected Pope at the age of 58 and remained head of the Church for a quarter of a century. When Benedict XVI resigned, he pointed out that the Catholic Church needs a strong and rigorous governing hand. Therefore I don’t think youth is a handicap.The determining factors will be the ability to govern and communicate.’
euronews: “How is the Catholic Church hoping to recover worshippers especially in the so-called First World?’”
Giacomo Galeazzi: “It is very significant that Benedict XVI created the Vatican Ministry for the new evangelism. It means that the West, which for centuries had been the place from where missionaries would set out to spread the word to the third world, has itself become a place for new evangelism. People come from the southern hemisphere to bring Christianity back to here.
“I think that from this point of view it will be important in the future to communicate not only with other religions but also with the agnostics, as Benedict XVI did so well saying that they were new areas of confrontation for the Church. He said himself that it is better to have an agnostic who asks questions than a false apparent faith. This is where the pope, before the new secularisation and forms of relativism, can play a fundamental role, because Europe will either be Christian or it won’t be.”
euronews: “And with regard to the case file on the scandals, which must be passed on to Benedict XVI’s successor, how much of a burden will this be for him?’”
Giacomo Galeazzi: “Towards the end of his pontificate, Joseph Ratzinger met with Tomko, de Giorgi and Erranza (the three cardinals in charge of the Vatileaks case file) and authorised them to share the results of their investigations with the other cardinals in general congregations. The text will be given to the next pope, but the cardinals can consult the investigators leading the Vatileaks enquiry and be directly informed of the results and progress.
“I think that this is really significant. This is why the members of the Curia want to begin the conclave as soon as possible. The more time passes the more the cardinals outside the Curia can understand and expand on what really happened in the Vatileaks affair and the more remote the possibility of a member of the Curia becoming Pope. You must remember that if the conclave is far away, the cardinals who were favourites at the beginning might no longer be so, as happened in 1978 with the outsider Wojtyła and for the first time in 500 years the pope was not Italian.”