Governance Seen As Priority for Next Pope
Vatican reporter Allen outlines challenges facing John Paul II successor
By Reid Oslin
Lingering effects of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal, the Church's relationship with followers of Islam, and biotechnology-related questions such as stem cell research and cloning will be among the major issues confronting the next Pope, John L. Allen, the highly-regarded Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, told a Boston College audience on Monday night.
Speaking at an event sponsored by the University's Church in the 21st Century initiative, Allen told an audience of more than 300 BC students, alumni and neighbors who filled Gasson 100 that the Catholic Church's next leader will likely have to take a more active role in actual Church governance than John Paul II has done in his 26 years as Pope.
Allen cited a variety of current trends and recent events that will pose a stern test for John Paul II's successor, including conflicts between Western nations and radical Islamic groups and leaders. Whether these conflicts are settled by diplomatic or military means, Allen said, there is likely to be an effect on Catholic-Muslim relations.
"Most cardinals I have talked to think that the relationship with Islam is going to have extraordinary consequences."
As for life technology issues, Allen said the Church must assess the extent to which its teachings can influence discussions on cloning and stem cell research. "The new Pope will have to lead conversation about this," Allen said. "Therefore, he will have to be a reasonably active intellectual and comfortable talking to people who are not 'Church people.'"
Allen noted that although John Paul II has appointed 118 of the Church's 122 voting Cardinals, there is no guarantee the College of Cardinals will elect a leader with similar philosophies to the current Pontiff, who is in poor health.
"This Pope has been a terrific missionary, a terrific evangelist, a great thinker," Allen said. "But the one issue that keeps being raised is governance.
"I think they [the College of Cardinals] will be looking to remedy the defects, to anticipate new challenges and want a prescription for change. There's an old saying in Italy that 'you always follow a fat Pope with a thin one.'"
Allen said one "rising star" in the College of Cardinals is 63-year-old Angelo Cardinal Scola, appointed by Pope John Paul II as the patriarch of Venice in 2003. "He's a genuine intellectual, he's charismatic, he's multi-lingual and he's an optimist," Allen said. "He believes that in spite of all the problems facing the Church, the Church has the capacity to enter a cultural argument and win."
Allen cautioned his listeners that his own assessment of Scola's abilities is no indication of the Italian's chances to be elected to the Church's highest office. "The trash heaps of Church history are literally covered with journalists who tried to pick the next Pope," he quipped.
A former high school teacher who has covered the Vatican for National Catholic Reporter for the past five years, Allen is considered one of the best reporters on the often-challenging Church beat. Popes do not grant interviews and other high-ranking Vatican officials are often reticent to share information with the media.
He was the first journalist to report the reassignment of former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law to a post in Rome and also scooped the world's religious press on the appointment of Archbishop Sean O'Malley, OFM, Cap., as Law's successor in Boston.
Allen said the Holy See is a relatively small organization, involving some 1,700 workers in the Curia that oversees more than 1 billion Roman Catholics world wide, only 6 per cent of who are American. This accounts for some of the problems perceived by those American Catholics who feel the Vatican has not reacted quickly enough to the recent sex abuse scandals that have affected several US dioceses, Allen said.
"There is a different sense of time," he noted. "America is what I call a 'microwave culture.' The Holy See is a 'crock-pot culture.' Americans want an immediate response to a crisis. The Holy See views that as immature. They feel that the right response is not always to jump into action, but to think your way through it."
Allen said Vatican officials have an "enormous respect" for the Church in the United States, ranging from Americans' ability to get things done, to the basic good heartedness of American Catholics in helping less fortunate brethren around the globe.
This is counterbalanced, Allen said, by some other Vatican beliefs that American culture is often hostile to the ideals of Catholicism, and Americans often fail to appreciate that religious-based decisions made in Rome have global - rather than just local - consequences.
"It's a tradition that is 2,000 years old," Allen said. "It does not turn on a dime."