The Papacy after Benedict XVI
Rev. James Bretzke, S.J., Boston College
Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale, I.H.M., Boston College
Rev. Robert Imbelli, Boston College
Rev. James M. Weiss, Boston College
Moderated by Rev. Mark Massa, S.J., Boston College
Date: February 27, 2013
The Boisi Center convened three distinguished scholars from diverse perspectives to discuss the nature of poverty in the United States and the issue’s place (or lack thereof) among American national priorities.
Less than 24 hours before Pope Benedict XVI formally resigned as Bishop of Rome and head of the global Catholic Church, the Boisi Center co-hosted a major panel discussion of Benedict’s legacy and the challenges he left to his successor. Boston College theologians Robert Imbelli, James Bretzke S.J., Mary Ann Hinsdale, I.H.M. and James Weiss shared insights, opinions and historical anecdotes on the forthcoming papal conclave, with Church historian Mark Massa, S.J., dean of BC’s School of Theology and Ministry, moderating the spirited conversation.
Fr. Imbelli, a priest of the Catholic archdiocese of New York, began the conversation by examining the strengths and weaknesses of Benedict’s papacy. Among the pope’s strengths, Imbelli argued, was his loyalty to Vatican II’s call for evangelization and his attempt to refocus the Church’s social teaching upon Christological grounds. Imbelli also cited Benedict’s brilliant writings on the mutually enriching relationship between faith and reason. As for the outgoing pope’s weaknesses, Imbelli agreed with the conventional wisdom that the pontiff lacked the strong administrative skills and foresight necessary to manage Vatican affairs and the global church in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals.
Fr. Bretzke, who has studied and worked in many countries in Europe and Asia, examined Benedict’s legacy from a cross-cultural perspective. Noting that neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI were well-travelled prior to their elections, he hoped for a new pope who will be better grounded in a multi-cultural understanding of the Catholic Church. Bretzke also argued that the speculation and introspection that prevail in advance of a papal conclave provide a healthy service to the Church by drawing out many views of what the Church truly needs. Despite his optimism, Bretzke also reminded the audience that the world should in some sense expect “more of the same”—semper idem, in Latin—from the Vatican because major changes are quite rare.
Fr. Weiss, an Episcopal priest, gave a brief history of papal conclaves while highlighting the unprecedented nature of this particular transition. He began his remarks by wondering, “What are the cardinals thinking?” He argued that there is a high level of distrust between the cardinals and the Curia, resulting from a general mismanagement of Vatican affairs during Benedict’s papacy. As a result, he argued, the new pope’s chief of staff may be as important as the pope himself if administrative reforms are to be effective. Weiss also noted that Benedict’s early resignation meant that the cardinals have had more time than any of their predecessors since 1800 to deliberate prior to the conclave. As a result, said Weiss, “We know what they are thinking about, but not what they are thinking about it. No front-runner has emerged.”
Sr. Hinsdale called Benedict’s resignation a “progressive act,” and expressed her hope that his departure will allow a greater voice for women within and outside of the Church hierarchy. She called upon Church leaders to make collegiality a core practice and reminded the audience that the Holy Spirit is working with and through all people. Hinsdale described previous popes as tremendous witnesses to the faith of the Church, but argued that real dialogue is needed with women in the church who do most of the groundwork for and with the faithful.
While none of the panelists (nor the packed audience nor any of the usual Vatican observers!) predicted Cardinal Bergoglio’s election as Pope Francis two weeks later, their wisdom and vision gave everyone an excellent framework by which to reflect upon the new pontiff’s leadership.
Chester Gillis. Papal Term Limits? Give it some thought. Commonweal, Vol.131(15), p.12. 2004.
John L. Allen. Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Election. (Image, 2002).
John-Peter Pham. Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession. (Oxford Press, 2006).
Chester Gillis. The Political Papacy: John Paul II, Benedictine XVI And Their Influence. (Paradigm, 2005).
Frederic J. Baumgartner. Behind Locked Doors: A History of Papal Elections. (Palgraves Macmillan, 2005).
NEWS ARTICLES AND OTHER SOURCES
James M. Weiss. "Conclave amid Vatican discord". The Boston Herald, March 12, 2013.
James M. Weiss. “Papal Politics”. The Boston Globe, April 13, 2005.
James M. Weiss. The Conclave and the New Pope: Precedents, Paradoxes, and Priorities. Event at The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, April 20, 2005.
Carol J. Williams. "Pope's resignation, 'a generous act,' could transform Vatican". The Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2013.
Mark-David Janus. “Servant of the Servants of God”. America Magazine, February 19, 2013.
Rev. James T. Bretzke, S.J. "Pope's big move a bold legacy". The Boston Herald, February 12, 2013.
Lisa Wangsness. "Pope Benedict stuns Catholic world with resignation". The Boston Globe, February 12, 2013.
John L. Ellement. "Theologians expect Vatican insider to be chosen as next pope". The Boston Globe, February 11, 2013.
“‘Papabili’: Twelve to watch as cardinals gather in Rome”. The Catholic Sun, February 18, 2013.
America Magazine archive: The Papacy of Pope Benedict XVI
In the News
Boston College theologian Rev. James M. Weiss, in a Boston Herald op-ed article, gives a succinct summary of his remarks at our February 27th panel, "The Papacy After Benedict XVI". Weiss surveys the unique nature and the pressing implications of the 2013 conclave.