Despite a swirl of rumors since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation earlier this month, a leading expert on the Papacy and the Catholic Church Wednesday quashed speculation that the Holy See is leaving for anything other than health reasons.
In an interview with Newsmax TV, Dr. Matthew Bunson, senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, said having witnessed the Pope at several liturgies over the last couple of years, he definitely noticed a decline in energy and the need for additional assistance.
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“I can vouch for the fact that at liturgies, he needed more and more help from the master of ceremonies to get around,” Dr. Bunson said. I suspect we can take him entirely at his word that he has reached the point where his health, energies, and the ability to govern a church with a billion souls has reached the point where he doesn’t feel he can devote the kind of strength that is needed.”
Addressing the crises facing the church, Dr. Bunson said the church’s central government, known as the Roman Curia, may have played a role in his decision to leave. He said the church could benefit from governmental reforms and an overall streamlining of the organization.
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“We also need to continue the process that we began, somewhat haltingly, under Pope Benedict XVI of bringing the Vatican administration forward into a very modern era,” he said.
Dr. Bunson said the church has begun steps to move the Vatican’s finances toward compliance with international regulations. He said there were most likely other steps that Pope Benedict saw as necessary that prompted him to decide a younger and more vigorous leader was needed.
He believes that Pope Benedict did not want his declining health and other contributing factors to become an obstacle that would keep the church from streamlining and modernizing. He also said it was important to Pope Benedict that the church have a leader that was capable of taking the Gospel to the modern world in a way to which most people could relate.
“The church is exploding in growth in Africa and South America and, of course, Asia. The Holy Father recognizes that we need to have someone that’s going to have the energies to carry all of these different projects forward,” Dr. Bunson said.
Turning to the selection process for the next Catholic leader, Dr. Bunson said cardinals will likely be looking for a host of different skills, including language skills to facilitate global outreach. He also believes leaders will want someone who can articulate and execute a global vision that recognizes the worldwide appeal of Catholicism.
Some candidates that have been mentioned include the Rev. Angelo Schola, archbishop of Milan, and the Rev. Leonardo Sandri of Argentina, who is a longtime Vatican diplomat and experienced in global church affairs.
Dr. Bunson said Pope Benedict’s resignation likely set a very significant precedent that will cause others who follow him to consider leaving the papacy if they are healthy, but their energies aren’t sufficient to govern a church with more than 1 billion members. He also said cardinals will be well aware that their task at hand is something that’s only occurred one other time in an institution that is 2,000 years old.
“This is new and something that’s quite surprising. No one would have anticipated this, even a few weeks ago. And that’s something that factors into the deliberations of the cardinals,” he said “They know they have to rise to the occasion to find the person who’s going to be able to take all these different crises, challenges, and opportunities and bring them together as we move forward as a global church.”
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