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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What The Next Pope Is Up Against

A view of the crowd in St. Peter's Square during Pope Benedict XVI's last general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

A view of the crowd in St. Peter’s Square during Pope Benedict XVI’s last general audience in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation takes effect tomorrow, and his successor will have to address a number of problems.

There’s the ongoing sex abuse scandal, the shortage of priests as the church grows in Africa and the clash between the conservative wing of the church and American nuns, to name a few.

But do the problems also offer an opportunity?

We spoke with Global Post founding editor Charlie Sennott, who covered the last papal transition for The Boston Globe. He’s also a Catholic and wrote one of the first books about the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.

Interview Highlights

On Pope Benedict XVI resigning and fast-tracking the conclave:

Global Post founding editor Charlie Sennot is pictured at the Here & Now studios. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Global Post founding editor Charlie Sennot is pictured at the Here & Now studios. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“It’s worth asking, why is a pope of such great tradition breaking tradition to resign right now? I think that the weight of the scandal really weighs too heavily on a frail and elderly pope. I think it’s a recognition that there are deep problems with governance within the church. The governance by this pope is flawed. If you talk to – even his closest supporters will say this is not a manager, this is a great intellect, this is a great theologian. But as a manager, he’s failed.”

On the magnitude of challenges facing the Catholic Church:

“The church does amazing work with the poor and the sick around the world. As it faces this dramatic shortage of priests in the West, how will it manage this church that is critical to helping so many and treads a line where its own moral edicts are challenged every day in the battle against AIDS, every day in whether or not they’re going to lend assistance to people who are gay, for example, and who face death threats in many parts of the world for being gay. How are they morally going to square themselves with many of these on-the-ground issues – and what moral authority do they hold given the scandals that have racked the church? These are momentous times. It’s the church on a precipice of change, I think it is safe to say. And historians who study a lot more closely than I do would say this is a moment that is as significant as the Protestant reformation was.”

On what these challenges mean for the future of the Catholic Church:

“I don’t see the church breaking up in any big, dramatic way, with a big split that runs down the middle. But I do think it’s fair to say that not since the Reformation has the church faced this level of scandal and strain and challenges to its moral authority. And I think this is a moment for the church to go into the future as a global church, or to continue to sort of seek the shadows of this aging hierarchy that has ruled the church for so long. And these are critical questions that Catholic families all over the country are sitting around dinner tables talking about. The Catholic Church is divided. There is a real conservative element that has come out the, really the great papacy of John Paul II – he did have a very historic papacy. This papacy has been really about being a placeholder for the many changes globally that John Paul II put forward. But it’s also been, in the last eight years of the Benedict papacy, has been an attempt to really assert a conservative agenda with great power and authority.”


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  • J__o__h__n

    Please, the Catholic Church is no friend to gays.  Bring on the priest shortage! 

    If the church wants to help the poor, it should pay taxes.

  • M.

    As historically and influential as the Reformation?  I think not!  The Catholic Church has had sexual and abuse scandals since it’s beginnings, Popes come and go, the Church have been accused of sexual misconduct, bribery, even helping the Nazis.  The Reformation took away their monopolization of the Bible, the use of Scripture to manipulate people and God creating a false intermediary (the Catholic priest)between God and Men and allowed for the CORRECT teaching of Jesus as the only intermediary between Men and God.

  • aknman49

    Regarding references to the Reformation, let’s not forget the reason the reformation happened was because the church was so corrupt and resistant to reform that Luther and others found it necessary to create an alternative. The more things change, the more they stay the same: the Catholic church is still corrupt and resistant to reform.

    Fortunately, now, those alternatives already exist and plenty of former Catholics who have abandoned hope in the church adopting any significant changes have already fled to a variety of other Christian denominations.

  • Call_Me_Missouri

    Where there is Persistent Poverty there is Catholicism.  All the unfunded child births that result from their No-Abortion / No-Birth Control / Abstinence Only policy only creates more poverty.  Where there is growth, there is more education.  Where there is more education there is a reduction in Catholicism.  

    If Catholicism is big in developing countries… don’t worry… it won’t be for long.

    • Inkc

      You seem to be ignorant about the teachings of the  Church.  It teaches one should only have as many children as they can afford, (to feed, clothe, educate) and  should learn Natural Family Planning to help them accomplish this.
      It’s better for a womans health, (no added, unnatural hormones to her body) and the environment, (the sewer systems not absorbing the excreted hormones) 

       It’s not that hard to figure out your menstrual cycle, with a little teaching, knowledge is a good thing, and it’s free.  I’m a woman, so I’m speaking from experience.  

      On a side note, research Catholic scientists, you’ll see who started the University system etc…  enlightenment is a wonderful thing for everybody!

  • Lewis

    I had to laugh listening to the spiel about the Catholic Church, the biggest corporation on earth. They may help the poor around the world, however without advocating birth control they will never be able to help all the poor. This may be the “good” that the church provides, but the sex abuse problems overshadow their good deeds. 

     Stop the endless breeding, educate the women and and this needless cycle of poverty will lessen and/or end.
    However the “leaders” of the world desire a class of people in poverty. They have no power in politics. What you get is a nation of sheep to watch over. Its all about CONTROLLING THE MASSES.

    “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by  the rulers as useful”. Seneca the Younger, philosopher, statesman and orator 

    “Religion is the masterpiece of the art of animal training, for it trains people as to how they shall think. ”  ― Arthur Schopenhauer 
    How well we know what a profitable superstition this fable of christ has been for us.  —Pope Leo 1513-1521

    • charles

       “… biggest corporation on earth.”

      So true.  Living in central Florida as I do, I’m surrounded by Catholics who constantly bemoan the intransigent poverty of Latin America but where the richest institution ever known to mankind holds sway and which is largely responsible, either directly or through indoctrination indirectly, for that poverty.

      If the church is even the slightest bit serious about addressing poverty, it should start with the Catholic church.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnnyFroggg J Frog

    It is important to focus on the problems of the Catholic church.  On the other hand…Locally, Dominican sisters run nursing homes that  care for the aged and  Alzheimer patients.  The friars of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen feed and clothe local poor, counsel drug addicts.  Jesuits have created some of the best schools in our metro Detroit area.  Good things that have helped lots of  people.  All done way more efficiently then the public sector with less overhead than most charities like the bloated United Way.

    • J__o__h__n

      Does the efficiency include the Church’s entire overhead?  The Vatican can’t be cheap to maintain. 

      • http://twitter.com/JohnnyFroggg J Frog

        All the money given to the Capuchins goes to the Soup Kitchen.  Same with the nursing homes and all the local charities.

        The Vatican?  annual expenditures: $326.4 million.  At least that’s what cia.gov says.  they also add “..an annual collection taken up in dioceses and from direct donations go to a non-budgetary fund, known as Peter’s Pence, which is used directly by the Pope for charity, disaster relief, and aid to churches in developing nations.”

  • DanHortsch

    Thank you for an interesting, informed discussion. I was raised Catholic by solidly Catholic parents, but cannot be part of that church today. However, as much disdain as I have for the old, misogynist men in the Vatican, the institution is intriguing as a historic and powerful entity, a force both good and bad. It also has many wonderful people who do much good and who fight for change. They include the nuns, who accomplish much real good while ignoring as much as they can the pope and cardinals and bishops who suppress them and their more compassionate views. It also has many thoughtful practicing members who accept what they believe and reject what they do not. Whether these caring elements of the church can effect real change, and how long it will take, are questions without predictable answers.

     Thank you, too,  for your program in general. Robin Young is one of the best, most enjoyable hosts on public (or any) radio, energetic and informed and engaged.

  • mark case

    I think it will be  hard to change the celibacy rule . I pretty sure it was enabled to keep the wealth within the church. No family means no divorce or inheritance. It wasn’t a religious decision it was a financial decision.

  • Martha

    What kind of example does the Pope set for the rest of us to have faith in God in the face of terrible hardship if he himself can’t take the pressure, and has so little faithand trust  in God’s mysterious ways that he has to quit? I think he’s a lousy coward and if not,  there has to be  more to this story than we have been told. What else is new with the catholic church? It’s been a  horrifyingly hypocritical institution for centuries, and I for one would love to have Jesus return to express his outrage at the disgusting actions they continually cover up.

    • inkc

       He’s physically not up to the job anymore, and he believes someone in better health could do the job better.   So?  What does that have to do with faith?     Do you understand the reasoning why some people retire? It’s that simple.

  • Inkc

     Interesting how NPR always mentions priest shortages, yet never mentions the fact that seminarians studying for the priesthood in the United States are at a 25 year high, in my own diocese, (in Missouri) they’re at a 30 year high.  
    Mass attendence must be up locally at least , my church is always crowded and just last month added a 4th Sunday Mass, (there’s also a Saturday evening Mass) to accomadate all the people.

  • James

    Very tired of the media manufacturing a “story” around this corrupt corporation called the Cathloic Church.  Very few really care at all whether there is a Pope or not. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=803512953 Carlos Pecciotto

    Pope Benedict XVI’s tenure to me represents the worst reflexes of the Catholic Church, right alongside the persecution of Galileo and their tacit support of Fascism/Nazism, to name but two incidences where the Church finds itself on the wrong side of history.  Their rejection of homosexuality, female priesthood, birth control/women’s control over their own reproductive organs… Their attempts at coverup of sexual abuse just cement the fact that this institution has much to answer for still. My Rx for the Church to atone for their recidivism is a radical makeover: a Vatican III that creates a more inclusive, more progressive and tolerant Church. The truly faithful will fall in line, the recalcitrant bigots will squirm out like the maggots that they are, and it will only strengthen the Church in North America and Europe. The College of Cardinals will ignore any similar recommendation at their own peril in choosing a new Pope. I would also like the new Pope forge high-profile ecumenical alliances with Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Hindu leaders to help bring about peace and justice to their respective constituents. I want the new Pope to dress in plain clothes and walk through the most strife-torn places in the world: Syria,  inner-city Chicago, Somalia, the Villas Miserias in Argentina, northern Nigeria, the favelas of Brazil, the Congo…   Meanwhile I will sit back and watch the Catholic Church crumble and collapse under the weight of its own sins and dysfunction, since I have no hope of any of the above happening.

    • Dan

      walk through the most strife-torn places in the world: Syria, inner-city Chicago, Somalia, the Villas Miserias in Argentina, northern Nigeria, the favelas of Brazil, the Congo…   Palestine

  • Wondering?

    How sad that the conversation could only mention that the reason for the church is that they do good works.  Back to pre-Reformation thinking.

    No mention at all of the reason the Church exists is because of our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  We do good works because we want to live as Jesus lived.  Never a word about the basic tenets of our faith.  It would seem that they are lost or that they are too embarrassing to  talk about. 

  • Myemail

    Whenever I want a laugh, I listen to NPR’s coverage of the Church.  What a joke.  Listen, the Church is not a company.  We are electing a spiritual leader, not a CEO.  If you disagree with the Catholic Church’s teachings on various social issues, you have hundreds if not thousands of Christian churches to choose from.  The Catholic Church will not allow women priests, birth control, gay “marriage”, or the like.  Get over it.  Have fun being Methodist or Anglican or atheist or whatever you like. 


    • J__o__h__n

      I don’t care what the Catholic Church does regarding women priests and not recognizing gay marriage and countless other matters until they influence public policy on reproductive rights, equal marriage rights, etc. 

  • Reformationwarriors

    The Catholic Church has so much corruption in its history, so much bloodshed,  just disband it, quite now before more children are hurt!

  • Donna Marie Gaspar

    The Church is already broken up in a really big way.  CNN brought to the attention of the world just last week the many and diverse groups that are indeed ” broken” away from Rome. The Old 
    Catholics, The Eucumenical Catholic Communion, Roman Catholic Womanpriests, Corpus etc.

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