Last week, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will step down from his papal seat on February 28th, an event that has not happened for about six centuries. The obvious questions arise: who will be his successor? And what will be the direction of the Church under the new Pope?
Benedict decided to step down because of health issues as he ages into his mid 80’s, being a Pope who supposedly did not want the job in the first place, attempting to retire twice as a Cardinal under Pope John Paul II. During his time, Benedict worked to continue the enormous legacy of John Paul II, and like JPII, he kept the direction of the Church firmly grounded in tradition, resisting the pressure for more leniency on issues like birth-control.
As soon as the announcement was made, immediate speculation reverberated throughout the world as to who the successor would be. The “front-runners” include 68 year old Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who would become the first North American Pope, as well as Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana, who would become the first African Pope. Although the world wants to predict the next Pope, history tells us that the Pope is almost never the most likely candidate.
Both of the previously mentioned candidates would make excellent popes, and Vegas has already given odds of 4-1 to Oullet, and 5-2 to Turkson, but once again this makes their chances smaller than before.
Fr. Wieck, SJ weighed in on the topic, commenting that he “hopes Cardinal Oullet becomes the new Pope, but [he] is open to whichever man the Holy Spirit chooses.” Oullet’s conservative views on worldly affairs would definitely make the “passing of the hat” a smooth transition because of the previous two Popes’ similar ideas. Oullet has in fact faced criticisms for his traditional views on marriage and abortion, just as the previous Popes have.
Right after he steps down, 117 Cardinals will gather in Vatican City to elect the successor who will probably be established by Easter. Once the process of choosing the pontiff has ended, the next step will be carrying out the new legacy. Fr. Wieck wants the successor to “continue the trajectory of John Paul II and Benedict XVI in bringing the documents of Vatican II to light in our modern age.”
As February 28th approaches, the world will wait with bated breath to see which of these men the Holy Spirit chooses. These historic times could potentially affect the Catholic Church’s image in the world for better or worse, but only time will tell.