The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

February 24, 2013

Reshaped papacy raises questions for church future

NORMAN — Pope Benedict XVI has reshaped the papacy simply by giving it up. But how?

As the first pontiff in six centuries to step down, Benedict has carved a new path for his successors who decide they cannot rule for life. But scholars say the repercussions could reach beyond just changing how pontiffs leave to ultimately shape perceptions about the authority and significance of the pontificate.

“A lot of what it will mean has to do with what subsequent popes do. Does this become a precedent for future popes to follow or not?” said Phillip Thompson, executive director of the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University.

Benedict’s pontificate will end at 8 p.m. Thursday. He plans no role in the conclave that will choose the next pontiff, and will retreat to a life of prayer in a monastery behind Vatican walls. His decision shocked the church. But papal resignations are expected to become more likely over time because of extended lifespans and the growing demands of the pontificate, Thompson said.

Travel is now a major responsibility due largely to the globe-trotting example of Pope John Paul II. Shepherding the 1.1 billion faithful requires constant contact through the Internet. These days, Catholics far from the Holy See can watch the weekly general audience, ask the pope questions on Twitter and pray in real time along with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square. As a result, staying on until death can mean a very public decline. John Paul, suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other health troubles, could no longer walk or talk when he died in 2005 at age 84.

The pope is regarded as a teacher, an international diplomat and an administrator, but he is also the vicar of Christ — a leader with a divine mission. Benedict’s retirement raised fears that the pontificate could be viewed as less holy. Some questions have even focused on the much misunderstood Catholic teaching on papal infallibility: With two popes, one emeritus and one in power, who will have the final say? In fact, infallibility applies to the office, not the person, and only when a pope invokes apostolic authority to define doctrine or morals for the entire church.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Nation/World
  • Target taps outsider as CEO for shakeup

    NEW YORK — Target is bringing in an outsider as its CEO for the first time as the retailer fights to redefine itself to American shoppers....

    August 1, 2014

  • Israel and Hamas agree to 72-hour hiatus to negotiate peace deal

    JERUSALEM — Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire beginning today, during which time there will be negotiations on a more durable truce in the 24-day-old Gaza war, the United States and United Nations announced ...

    August 1, 2014

  • India landslide kills 21

    NEW DELHI — Rescuers worked in rain today to dig through a remote village in western India where at least 21 people died as a landslide swept away scores of houses, possibly trapping many more people under debris, officials said....

    July 31, 2014

  • Israeli strike hits UN school

    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli artillery shells tore through the walls of a U.N. school crowded with sleeping war refugees and back-to-back explosions rocked a market filled with shoppers Wednesday as Israel’s stepped up campaign against ...

    July 31, 2014

  • Busted water main dumps 20 million gallons of water into UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion and adjacent garage

    LOS ANGELES — The rupture of a nearly century-old water main that ripped a 15-foot hole through Sunset Boulevard and turned a swath of the University of California, Los Angeles into a mucky mess points to the risks and expense many cities ...

    July 31, 2014

  • GOP-led House gives go-ahead for suit

    WASHINGTON — A sharply divided House approved a Republican plan Wednesday to launch a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of exceeding the bounds of his constitutional authority. Just a day before ...

    July 31, 2014

  • Senate approves new VA secretary

    WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new Veterans Affairs secretary, with a mission to overhaul an agency beleaguered by long veterans’ waits for health care and VA ...

    July 30, 2014

  • Senate passes highway bill, sends it to House

    WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday voted to change the funding and timing of a House bill to keep federal highway funds flowing to states in an effort to force Congress to come to grips with chronic funding problems that have plagued ...

    July 30, 2014

  • Israel targets Hamas infrastructures in latest round of bombing

    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel unleashed its heaviest bombardment in a 3-week-old war against Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the militant group’s control in Gaza and firing tank shells that Palestinian officials said shut down the ...

    July 30, 2014

  • Be ready for ‘prolonged’ Gaza war, prime minister says

    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Signaling an escalation of Israel’s Gaza operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Monday to be ready for a “prolonged” war, and the military warned Palestinians in three large neighborhoods to ...

    July 29, 2014