Youth must be a cardinal rule for next pope
When Pope Benedict XVI stepped down Feb. 28 from his post as pontiff of the Catholic Church, it sent shockwaves across the world. For the first time in more than 600 years, a pope did not serve until his death. Benedict, 85, felt as if he no longer had the strength to effectively carry out his duties as pope. In his final Sunday blessing, Benedict addressed a crowd of approximately 100,000.
“This doesn’t mean (I am) abandoning the Church,” Benedict said. “On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it with the same dedication and the same love, which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength.”
As the conclave to select a new pope begins Tuesday, the Catholic Church has entered uncertain waters. Father Anthony Giampietro, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, weighs in on the challenges awaiting the next pope.
“Among the things the next pope will face are challenges to religious freedom around the world,” Giampietro said. “These challenges are different in different countries, but they are very real, having to do with radically different understandings of the nature of God. The next pope will have the task of articulating and defending the Catholic view of religious freedom, one that does not trivialize deeply held religious beliefs.”
This was Benedict’s challenge, and he was too old, too physically unable to rise to the task for the long haul. That is not his fault, though his decision leaves the Church scrambling to elect his successor.
For now, 115 of the 117 members of the College of Cardinals remain in Rome in anticipation of the conclave, a ritual in which eligible cardinals under 80 years old lock themselves in the Sistine Chapel to elect the next pope. While everyone has some desired qualities they want to see in the next pope, an emerging quality is youth, that strength of body as well as spirit.
Since 1400, the average age of popes at their election is 62, and only six have been elected prior to turning 50. Benedict, elected in April 2005, was 78, the fifth oldest pope elected since 1400. The man he succeeded, Pope John Paul II was 58 when he ascended to the position in 1978. Benedict did not last eight years as pope, while Paul lasted more than a quarter of a century.
Canon Law does not address the issue of age directly. According to Canon 1031, “The presbyterate is not to be conferred except on those who have completed the twenty-fifth year of age and possess sufficient maturity.” In other words, a man must be 25 years old to be ordained a priest. From there, priests devote themselves to their order and their faith; a select few eventually become bishops, archbishops and metropolitans overseeing whole regions of diocese. A fewer number of these men become cardinals, selected by the pope to be his advisors, and those under 80 are to select the pope’s successor.
It makes sense why popes tend to skew older; people want a leader with experience, knowledge and self-understanding that comes with age; however, what the Catholic faith needs is a strong figure that can lead as the Holy See for several decades. No one over 70 years old should be elected pope.
By being in charge of overseeing the Catholic Church, the pope performs an array of exhausting duties and frequently travels. At a time when many are drifting from religion — the Catholic faith being no exception — the Church needs an animated and dynamic leader to captivate the public. Giampietro says otherwise.
“We can all make suggestions about the kind of person we would like to see as pope,” he said. “For example, some are saying the next pope should be younger. But if there had been an age limit, Benedict XVI would not have been elected, a man who has written and done remarkable things for the Church and for the world. I have confidence that the Holy Spirit will give us the kind of pope we most need at this time.”
Benedict will be remembered for his numerous best-selling books and powerful sermons. In his works, he has emphasized the need for self-examination, reflected on the life of Christ and his church as well as examined the relationship between faith and reason. Benedict has made a lasting impression and a powerful impact on the 1.18 billion Catholics worldwide.
The Church needs to consider the future when choosing the next pope and think about what will be best to propagate the mandates of the Church and help expand the base of Catholics going forward.
Sarah Backer is a business sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]