Pope John Paul II has left a large void behind him. One of the most media friendly popes ever, his became the most universally recognised face in the world over the past decades of his reign. Never before has a pope travelled as widely and commented as much about worldly issues. I spoke to some of the Religious at the largest Catholic Seminary in South Africa, St Joseph’s Theological Institute (SJTI) at Cedara, about their thoughts on the old pope and their hopes for the new one.
Father Emmanuel Mosoeu (PhD) of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) reflects that, “there is no doubt that Pope John Paul II magically touched the modern world in a unique way with his constant message of respecting human life all the way. He touched the hearts of many of us around the globe and the youth of the world occupied a special place in his heart.” But there is a caveat, he says. “Pope John Paul II is also perceived as a man of profound contradictions. While he claimed to value life all the way, somehow he failed to grasp the urgency today of the exclusion of women in the church. While he claimed to be open to meaningful ecumenism, he failed to grasp anew the traditional true meaning of the bishop of Rome as ‘The first among equals.’ This attitude impoverished the chances of the Roman Catholic Church of achieving a meaningful dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Church,” says Mosoeu. “Again, while he longed for the lasting meaningful dialogue with Christians of Protestant tradition, his papacy ushered the unfortunate Document, Dominus Iesus (Our Lord Jesus) which dampened the spirit of dialogue with this great Christian tradition of ours in the West. While he is one of the champions who courageously confronted totalitarianism of Communism in Poland and beyond, he failed to see the same urgency in Latin America. While he appeared to be open to some kind of African enculturation, he made sure that Archbishop Milingo of Zambia is kept in Rome forever for his innovative Africanisation programme.”
Pope John Paul II definitely had a few critics. Sister Susan Rakoczy (PhD), of the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, IHM, of SJTI hopes for a new pope who “is open to dialogue on the contentious issues of the church that have not been allowed to be discussed during the pontificate of John Paul II. These include the ordination of women, a married diocesan clergy, the status of divorced persons in the church, the development of sexual ethics which includes the voices of married people.” She does however state that the pope has done much good in terms of social justice, peace, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue but adds that the new pope “should be open to listening to the views of others even if he disagrees with them.”
Father Daniel Coryn, of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), and President of SJTI, hopes that, above all, the new pope will be a holy man and a man of deep prayer. Coryn, who spent twelve years in the Vatican as a member of the general administration of the OMI’s, states that it may very well be an Italian who is chosen this time. “Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan is quite a possibility,” says Coryn. “He’s quite middle of the road and a good Moral Theologian. But the other two Italians, Archbishop Angelo Skola and Archbishop Re are also contenders. Skola is quite robust and assertive and Re has been in charge of the nomination of Bishops in Rome for a long time. He knows the daily workings of the Vatican well.”
Coryn does think that a few outsiders do stand a chance though. “Perhaps an outsider from South America will be chosen,” he says, “and this could be a surprise. The Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Claudio Hummes, stands a reasonable chance, and so does Oscar Andres Rodriguez, Archbishop of Tegucigalap. The Cardinal from Brussels, Godfried Danneels, would be a choice if the Church decides to focus on the de-Christianization of Europe. But if the Church wants to address the challenges in the relationship between Christianity and Islam, they would choose Francis Arinze of Nigeria. He has been in Rome for a long time in the administration. He is also in charge of the Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. He is quite conservative, but he could have an outside chance.”
When Cardinal Arinze became the first black man ever to sit on the throne of St Peter’s in Rome when he stood in for the pope in a mass during the African Synod in 1994, Father Luke Mlilo, of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill, (CMM) and Dean of SJTI, was part of the congregation. He has never forgotten the moment.
“It was beautiful to see Cardinal Arinze in the pope’s seat and to hear the African drums and the women ululating,” Mlilo says. “It was a wonderfully enculturated liturgy, and it was Africa making a statement. It was a really warm celebration, from the heart.”
But Mlilo says that it isn’t so important where the next pope comes from, as long as he is really in touch with the real issues “such as poverty, the divide between the North and the South, and the whole issue of family. It is important that the next pope rethinks the issue of returning divorced people to the sacraments for example,” Mlilo says. “It is a very concrete reality of life and it needs to be addressed from a more pastoral and caring approach. It is important that there should be more openness in dealing with people on a case to case basis, and particular cases should be considered on their particular merits. We don’t want a whole sector of the Catholic community denied their sacraments. I would hope that the new pope would be less hard-line and more pastoral. As regards the issue of Contraception, the subject should be open to debate. I am not saying that we should have it, but I do think it should be discussed.”
Mlilo also believes the Ordination of Women has to be brought into the frame. “As we move into the 21st Century, we have to rethink our entrenched position,” he says. “But my biggest hope is that the pope comes from one of the so-called Third World countries as this is a very different reality to that of Europe. While Catholicism is dying in Europe, the so-called Third World Churches are very much alive.”
Susan Rakoczy believes that the Vatican needs a huge shake up. Talking to Jeremy Maggs on SAFM recently, she stated that the previous pope put the Catholic Church back in many ways. “I was quoting Nicholas Lash, a lay theologian in Britain, who wrote a couple of years ago that at the end of Vatican II in 1965 no one could have foreseen that in less than 40 years we would have the most centralized and autocratic form of church government that we haven’t seen in a 1000 years,” Rakoczy says. “The cultural ethos of John Paul II’s Polish identity informed the way he ran the church. I grew up in a Polish-American parish in the United States and the parish priests ran the parish as their own personal fiefdom. This was writ large by John Paul II, who (as a BBC special on him over the weekend pointed out, never had a personal experience of democracy). At the Synod of Bishops there is no room and space for open debate; bishops speak one after another with no comment, no discussion except in small groups by language. Each continent and parts of continents have conferences of bishops but under John Paul II they had very, very little latitude for decision-making. Everything had to be approved by Rome. From what I have read, bishops around the world have resented being treated as if their decisions must always be approved by Rome. There was tension between unity and diversity and John Paul focused on unity - actually uniformity - at all costs. Yet the church is very different on each continent and the bishops should be trusted to make decisions in light of the needs of their people.”
I asked Rakoczy what the biggest challenges are to the new pope. “The challenges are to continue the appreciable heritage of John Paul II in areas of social justice, peace and ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and also give attention to issues of the church’s life as I said before. But there are also other areas. I read a NewYork Times article yesterday which stated that John Paul II focused on Judaism but did not engage Islam. Islam is a growing presence in Europe and North America and is part of the religious reality in Africa. There are issues of biotechnology, for example cloning, which need serious discussion. It is facilely said that Europe is no longer Christian and has yielded totally to Secularization. So how can the Gospel be preached in Western Europe? I hope and pray that the next pope will feel free in himself for the good of the Church to establish study commissions on women’s ordination, clerical celibacy and other controversial issues within the next few years. I hope that this will lead to Vatican III. Archbishop Denis Hurley suggested that an Ecumenical council be held every 25 years and that is an excellent idea. As a woman, I hope that the next pope would be free enough in himself to meet with women who have been ordained, such as Trish Fresen, a South African now in Europe and others who were ordained in Europe in the last few years and with women who have left the Catholic Church to be ordained in other Christian churches. Women need to have their stories of vocation listened to and taken seriously. This is the only way a real discernment process about women’s ordination can begin.”
Regarding the term of office of the pope, everyone I spoke to said that the new pope should not be young, as this meant he would be entrenched in office for a long time. Rakoczy suggests a term of office and a rotation system.
“The cardinals who will elect the pope in the next two weeks or so will have to confront the dilemma of age. They probably do not want to have another 25-30 year pontificate so they will elect someone over 65 or 70,” she says. “But older people get chronic diseases. Pope John Paul II had Parkinson’s disease and mercifully he and the church were spared the dementia which happens to some Parkinson’s sufferers. If the pope had a fixed term, for example 10-15 years, a younger cardinal could be elected. Or a retirement age for the pope could be fixed, such as 75 as all other bishops have.There has been much talk about a pope from Africa. Another possibility - which I think is totally remote - is to rotate the office amongst the continents so that Africa would take its turn.”
Finally though, all this is wishful thinking. John Paul II elected all the cardinals who are voting and being voted for, so there is not that much chance that things will change radically in the Vatican. Rakoczy feels this more than most.
“I was in Benoni at the Carmelite Retreat Centre for Holy Thursday,” she says. “Only men’s feet were washed at the liturgy. I learned that the priests understand that liturgy as a re-enactment of the Last Supper, which it isn’t. This is a small example of how in large and small ways women are marginalised.”
But Rakoczy hasn’t given up hope for change. “As a woman I am praying to the great women saints such as Catherine of Siena, who stood up to popes and civil authorities and called for reform in the Church, Teresa of Avila,; Therese of Lisieux, who wanted to be a priest, and also to Blessed John XXIII, Archbishop Denis Hurley and Archbishop Oscar Romero to be with us in this crucial time. I have also been asking my friends and colleagues from other Christian churches to pray about the next pope since his leadership affects everyone.”