Pope Benedict XVI

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February 11, 2013; Source:Catholic News Agency

NPQ would love to hear what our readers hope for in a new Pope, particularly because this papacy has overseen a tightening of controls on charities related to the Catholic Church.

The world was taken by surprise when Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will be retiring at the end of the month. It has been over 600 years since the last time a pope (Gregory XII in 1415) abdicated voluntarily. There are a lot of questions about what will happen next. One question that has occurred to us at NPQ involves what this transition mean may mean for Catholic charities in the U.S. and around the world.

The Vatican has been in the process of realigning its policies and practices on charity and good works, as NPQ recently noted. Pope Benedict’s recently released Lent message echoes his apostolic letter on charity issued in December. Simply put, the Catholic Church sees faith and charity as inseparable, so the Vatican stated that good works with which the Church aligns itself should not be hostile to basic Catholic beliefs. The apostolic letter was seen as evidence of a recent move by the Vatican to assure that a more consistent mission and vision could be identified in the charities receiving support from—or performed by—the Catholic Church around the world.

But one person’s welcoming of consistency is another person’s concern about control and domination. Concerns have been expressed that dioceses and parishes might be restricted from collaborating with non-Catholic charities that have programs and services at variance with Catholic teaching. It’s still too soon to know how the doctrine of the inseparability of faith and charity will manifest itself in local communities, and whether the election of a new Pope will signal a possible change in interpretation or direction.

The election of a new Pope doesn’t easily fit into the red state/blue state political discussions we have in the U.S., but there are factions and divisions over theology, teaching and practice within the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI was widely recognized as a “caretaker” Pope following the death of Pope John Paul II. The College of Cardinals (who elect the Pope) chose to delay a choice that would signal a long-term strategic direction for the Vatican. This reluctance was due, at least in part, to the large number of newly created cardinals.

The choice of a new Pope to succeed Benedict XVI is an opportunity for the Catholic Church to signal to the world and to the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide where emphasis may be placed. Will the first non-European Pope be elected? Will the College of Cardinals confirm the conservative path of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, or will it choose a more contemporary approach like that of John XXIII and the reform-minded Second Vatican Council he convened? Will the new Pope affirm that charity and good works should be rooted in faith and dogma, or will he reach out to those who feel the currently-espoused approach is too limiting and not responsive enough to current needs? –Michael Wyland