Tags: vatican | pope | transition

Vatican Expert: Papal Transition ‘Unique Moment in History’

Wednesday, 27 Feb 2013 04:50 PM

By Cyrus Afzali and John Bachmann

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As a leading Vatican journalist, Sean-Patrick Lovett has covered events under four Popes. But even he has not witnessed the event that will likely captivate many Catholics beginning next week.

Pope Benedict XVI officially leaves his position on Thursday, and cardinals from around the world will meet next week to set in motion the process of selecting the next Pope, known as a conclave. It will be the first time in nearly 600 years that a conclave has sat at the same time there is a living Pope.

As one of his last official acts, Benedict ruled that leaking information from the conclave to the media is an offense punishable by excommunication. Lovett traces that decision to a variety of what he calls “nasty leaks” that have recently rocked the Vatican.

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“We’ve looked at some nasty leaks, including the famous Vatileak scandal that rocked the Holy See recently,” said Lovett, the director of English-language programming on Vatican Radio.

“The Pope just wants everything to be in place for his successor and wants the smoothest possible transition. That’s why we saw him literally tweaking some of the rules regarding the conclave to practically urge cardinals to get on with the job as quickly as possible.
The conclave that resulted in Pope Benedict’s election in 2005 lasted only two days, but Lovett said there’s no way to accurately predict the timing of this process.

“I’ve seen four conclaves and each has been slightly different. Literally, anything can happen. It’s in everyone’s interest to get the conclave over as quickly as possible to show the Catholic Church has a clear sense of where the leadership is, where the leadership needs to be and knows who the best person qualified is to be that leader,” Lovett said.

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Pope Benedict has chosen the title of Pope Emeritus and will still be known as “His Holiness.” Some media outlets have speculated that this will make for an awkward transition, particularly since he will continue to live within the Vatican. Lovett said these are just some of the reasons that so many are keenly watching this Papal transition.

“We’re looking at a unique moment in history. There are no precedents for this, so we’re examining everything from the shoes to the ring to the succession,” he said.

The outgoing Pope is moving into a building next door to Vatican Radio that was once the network’s administrative offices. During the tenure of Pope John Paul II, the building was refurbished and transformed into a small monastery for nuns.

Speaking about the challenges facing the next Pope, including responding to the child sex-abuse scandals, Lovett said these issues must be kept separate from the selection process.

“There are issues out there. Pope Benedict XVI has done what he can to deal with them and they certainly will be very much on the minds of the cardinals when they met in the Vatican next week,” Lovett said.

Many also wonder whether the new Pope will consult his predecessor and whether that will create challenges. While the ability will be unusual for the incoming Pope given the extreme rarity of resignations, Lovett said it will bring an element into the job that exists for many.

“We’ve all had people we look up to and seek advice from. That’s not meddling. [Pope Benedict XVI] has been very clear that his idea is to remove himself from any active participation and literally dedicate himself to meditation, prayer and probably writing, because that’s what he loves and he does it beautifully,” Lovett said.

He also said it’s important to remember that some of the tensions arise from the fact that the Vatican is not only the home of a church, but also a political entity, of which the Pope serves as head of state.

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“It’s one of those dichotomies and one of the tensions that exists. One of the causes of confusion for people is looking at the Vatican and trying to read what is happening,  because they see both the political and spiritual dimensions of the papacy, the Vatican and the Holy See,” Lovett said. “Part of our challenge as communicators here is to try and keep the balance between the political and the spiritual. Both dimensions exist and it’s not something we’re ashamed of.”


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