By Gel Santos Relos
(My Asian Journal Column article)
Who will be the next Pope?
This has been the question many people have been asking after the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI last Monday.
Kababayans from all over the world even went as far as to ask: Could the next leader of the Catholic Church be Filipino?
According to Reuters, Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is among the list of potential candidates. While no official list has been made public yet, Reuters' list reportedly included the 55-year old Tagle, who has been reportedly compared to the late Pope John Paul II, in terms of leadership style.
The announcement of the Pope’s resignation (effective February 28) has fueled a lot of discussions about the present state of the Catholic Church and speculations about the organized religion’s future.
A Pope's resignation has not happened in the last 600 years, prompting many people to ask: Why now, when the Church is facing a lot of challenges? When it is desperately trying to fulfill its mission, in a world that has increasingly become more secular?
The Vatican’s official statement about the Pope’s resignation, however, seemed to show that the Pope’s decision supports the greater mission of the Church.
The 86-year-old Pontiff resigned due to lack of physical strength and his frail health -- impediments for him to effectively lead 1.2 billion Catholics in this time of turmoil.
Though saddened by the news, faithful followers have accepted and respected the Pope’s decision. They praised him for his humility and courage in making that decision. They say that this proves that the Pope believes the papacy is bigger than him, and that he will not allow himself to get in the way of the Catholic Church’s fulfillment of its mission -- proclaiming the Good News about Jesus Christ’s salvation of mankind, and helping people around the world be saved through the Catholic Church.
The Pope has been accused of covering up sexual abuse of children by priests, when he was still Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger.
Critics -- especially victims of alleged sexual abuse by Catholic priests -- said that while Pope Benedict XVI may have sounded and appeared compassionate about their plight, he has not really done anything about the situation.
Now, his detractors challenge him to do the right thing: open the records of the Church and expose the names of the clergymen, who have been accused of sex abuse. They ask him to turn these records over to secular law enforcement agencies and let the State (not the Church) put them on trial and make them pay for the consequences of their actions, as secular people are asked to do.
This, they say is in line with the kind of justice, fairness and true compassion they expect from the Catholic Church.
With Pope Benedict's resignation, the Catholic Church faces a crossroad in its 2,000-year-old history. Many people wonder if this impending change in leadership will bring about reforms that many followers have been clamoring for.
Will the still-to-be-named successor help the Catholic Church connect with the changing world, or will he carry on Pope Benedict XVI’s conservative and uncompromising position on social and theological issues?
Will he allow women to be ordained as priests?
Will he heed the call to allow priests to be married and have a family?
Will he bless the union of gay people in the holy sacrament of matrimony?
Will he allow the use of birth control methods (other than abstinence and the calendar method)?
Will he endorse the theory of evolution?
Will he support embryonic stem cell research?
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Pope Benedict XVI is expected to go into isolation after his resignation, so as not to influence the decision of the cardinals, as they elect a successor in a secret conclave.
Lombardi said the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church could be elected as soon as Palm Sunday (March 24) and be ready to take over by Easter (March 31).
Who do you think will be the new Pope? Do you think Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle has a chance to become the first Filipino Pope?
If you can have a say in the election process, what attributes do you want the new pontiff to have? How can he stop disillusioned and disappointed Catholics from leaving the flock? How do you think can the new Pope revitalize the Catholic Church?