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SELECTING A NEW POPE

Recent changes in the election procedures, and in the Church itself

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Changes in the election procedures:

On 1996-FEB-22, Pope John Paul II updated the election procedures that will be in place when his successor is chosen. Some of the major changes are:

bulletTwo-thirds vote of the conclave is required to elect a new pope. Previously, it was two thirds plus one vote.
bulletAfter seven ballots, if a new pope has not been selected, a full day is spent in prayer and discussion without voting. This sequence is repeated as needed.
bulletIf a prescribed period of time and number of ballots has passed -- the cardinals my vote to allow the pope to be elected by a simple majority.
bulletThe cardinals will no longer be confined to the Sistine Chapel, day and night, throughout the entire election process. They will be assigned living quarters in suitable locations within the Vatican.

Pope John Paul II asked that the person elected by the conclave not refuse the honor because of fear or uncertainty.

Pope John Paul II also made an indirect change to the election of his successor. He personally chose 114 out of the 117 cardinals who will elect his successor. He consistently chose very conservative bishops and archbishops to be cardinals.

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Nationality:

In recent centuries, the popes have almost always been selected from the ranks of Italian cardinals. An exception is Pope John Paul II who was archbishop of Krakow in Poland. He was elected in 1978 and remains the reigning pope. Before him, Hadrian VI was the most recent non-Italian pope. He was Dutch, was elected in 1522 CE, and reigned for only one and a half years.

Observers are speculating whether the cardinals will revert to the church's tradition and elect an Italian pope. In theory, any Roman Catholic can be chosen. That gives them a choice from among over one billion baptized Catholics! However, in practice, only cardinals have been selected in recent centuries.

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Makeup of the church:

One of the most serious challenges faced by the church is due to its worldwide reach. It is active within a wide range of cultures.

At the beginning of the 20th century, about 80% of Roman Catholics lived in Europe or North American; most of the remainder were in Latin America. Now, these values are reversed. Eight of ten Catholics are Latino, African or Asian. A small minority is from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

The word "catholic" in "Roman Catholic" means "universal." Some observers feel that the church will find it increasingly difficult to maintain a strong central control over the entire church from Rome, with the same teachings, procedures and policies worldwide, and yet meet the needs of laity from diverse cultures.

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Stressors in the church:

Some laity and leaders are strongly advocating for major reform within the church. This is particularly noticeable in the American, Canadian and Dutch churches, where groups advocate for greater openness, the replacement of autocratic, dictatorial structures with democracy, greater participation by the laity at all levels of decision making, and major changes to some long-standing church policies and procedures.

"Call to Action -- Catholics working together to foster peace & justice in our world, our church and ourselves," lists major concerns in their "call for reform in the catholic church:"

bullet"a threatened environment;
bullet a growing poverty in a world of affluence;
bulleta plague of drug abuse reflecting deep despair;
bulletscientific advancements confronting us with life decisions without ethical principles to guide us;
bulletthe need to resolve conflicts within nations, when the temptation to use violence has the potential of destroying our planet."

Within the church itself, they call for many reforms, including:

bulletEqual treatment of men and women with the decision making levels of the church.
bulletAn end to compulsory priestly celibacy.
bulletAcceptance of the ordination of women and married persons.
bulletMajor revisions to the church's teachings on human sexuality.
bulletDemocratic election of bishops by the laity and priests in each diocese. This was the main practice prior to the 12th century CE.
bulletAcceptance of new forms of liturgy, language and leadership drawn from native cultures.
bulletOpen dialogue, academic freedom, and due process within the church.

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Reference used:

  1. NiGreg Tobin, "Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the mysteries of papal elections," Barnes & Noble, (2003). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. Call to Action's home page is at: http://www.cta-usa.org/

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Site navigation:

 Home > Christianity > Catholicism > Election > here

or Home > Christianity > Christian groups > List of faith groups > Catholicism > Election > here

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Copyright 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-APR-01
Latest update: 2005-APR-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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