The unprecedented nature of Benedict's retirement has created a new opportunity for the papacy. What do you think its lasting impact will be?
It is difficult to say, but I expect that any future pope will have regard for the overall benefit of the Church, and make a decision for or against retirement with reference to the criteria cited by Benedict in his interview with Peter Seewald. In some situations a pope may judge it best to see out his reign to the bitter end, in other circumstances the Benedict XVI approach may be favoured. In every instance it should still be a matter for the personal judgment of the pope.
Will this be the thing that Benedict XVI is remembered for, or will something in his papacy or theological writings last as a legacy for the future of Christendom?
I think he will be remembered for both his theological writings and his decision to resign, but as time goes by the theological writings will attain greater significance.
What will the current pope's most lasting legacy be?
His collection of over 60 books on a wide variety of theological topics, and perhaps, the creation of the Anglican Ordinariate.
Who do you think will get elected as the next pope? Why?
The front runners are Cardinal Marc Ouellet from Quebec and Cardinal Angelo Scola from Milan. I would be immensely happy with either of them. Both are exceptionally well educated and theologically close to Benedict XVI.
The argument in favour of Scola is that there is a general sense that the Curia is in need of a reform and that only an Italian can achieve that. In other words, the idea is that it takes an Italian to know how the Italians within the Curia work, know the patronage networks and the unspoken codes. Scola is also regarded as politically savvy and able to deal with the ‘world’. He is on top of the intellectual and political battle fields. When I met him over a decade ago, at a time when I was a doctoral student at Cambridge, the moment I mentioned “Cambridge” he started to recite the names of the Divinity School’s Faculty members and talk about their latest books. He could do the same for Oxford, the Sorbonne etc. He is totally at ease in the world of ideas but also capable of dealing with matters beyond the realm of the intellectual. He lost his political innocence as a young student at the University of Milan during the height of the Marxist era. He became a protégé of Fr Luigi Giussani, the founder of the new ecclesial movement, Communion and Liberation. This movement was the only significant resistance to the Marxist dominance of intellectual life on the Italian campuses. He later joined the seminary in Milan but was bureaucratically messed around by seminary authorities who were hostile to Giussani. He moved to a less prestigious seminary in the south of Italy, but history turned full circle when he was appointed the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan by Pope Benedict. He is well known for his Oasis Foundation which is dedicated to Islamic-Christian dialogue. Between his seminary years and his appointment to Milan he held, among other posts, that of Rector Magnificus of the Pontifical Lateran University, President of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, and Patriarch of Venice.
The argument in favour of Cardinal Marc Ouellet is that he has had experience in North America, South America and the Roman Curia. He is currently the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops and a member of half a dozen other Congregations. He speaks six languages. He, like Scola, is a former Professor of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family. In short, he is an intellectual in the tradition of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, with extensive Curial administrative experience, as well as pastoral experience in both North and South America. He would be the first Pope from the British Commonwealth and he would appeal to Francophone communities.
If youth is considered to be an important criterion, then Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary is a top contender. He is a canon lawyer by professional training which would be an asset when dealing with administrative problems and he is also regarded as an intellectual who has made some progress fighting the culture of death in Hungary.
Who do you think should be elected as the bishop of Rome, why?
As a Catholic it is rather difficult to answer this question because I must believe that the Holy Spirit has at least some influence over the decision, and also, I don’t know all the Cardinals. My competence is somewhat limited by these two factors.
There is a website called “adopt a Cardinal” and Catholics are being invited to randomly select a Cardinal for whom to pray during the conclave. The idea is not to pray that your Cardinal is elected, but to pray that your Cardinal is open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This seems to me to be the best strategy. I have adopted Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect for the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints.
There is a slogan which got the British through the Nazi blitz of London in the Second World War. It is “keep calm and carry on”. I think this is the right approach to the whole issue. I would make it, “Keep calm, adopt a Cardinal, and carry on”.
What do you think are the main requirements for this seat?
Holiness, courage, good communication skills, an understanding of the intellectual opposition to the faith, a passionate love of the Church and a deep understanding of how the Curia actually operates.
Whoever is elected next, how do you see an emeritus pope relating to ecclesial issues? Will Ratzinger remain cloistered, and thus out of the way of the next pope, or will he be a silent, behind the scenes influencer?
I expect that much will depend on the attitude of the new pope. I am sure that Benedict will stay out of the fray unless the new pope personally seeks his advice. This may happen. There could end up being a really beautiful relationship between the two popes whereby the reigning pope treats the pope emeritus as a soul-mate, friend, confidant etc and the two might even pray together. This situation could greatly ease the loneliness of the position for the new pontiff.
Would there be any benefit in electing Cardinal Dolan, an American, in terms of global politics and influence?
I don’t think that there would be any benefit in electing a pontiff because he is an American. If however an American happens to be the best man for the job, then I don’t think that the fact that he is an American should be a barrier. Many non-Americans however do have the attitude of “please, not an American”, simply because they feel as though Americans have too much power already. This is not my position. I am not neither for nor against anyone on the grounds of nationality. The Church is global, uniting all the tribes across the planet. This is one of the many great things about her.
How do you assess the current state of global catholicism today? Has the new evangelization been effective in altering the culture, or has it been a failure?
I think that the Church is internally stronger after the pontificates of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI but the external forces of opposition have also increased in strength. The Church was really in a mess in the 1960s and 70s and much of the current drama is a mopping up exercise of that mess. However precisely because there has been so much damage, so much internal weakening, the external forces are now very confident and militant. That said, history shows that the more the Church is persecuted, the more saints she produces. The important issue is that the Church’s leaders need to be unashamedly Christocentric and not go about behaving as though the Church were a haberdashery shop trying to update its windows to lure more customers. That was precisely the outlook of the 1960s which Ratzinger/Benedict said was both theologically stupid and counter-productive. As Fr Robert Barron has written, it is Christ who should position culture, not culture that should position Christ. That is the key message of the new evangelisation but some members of the generation of 1968 who remain in significant positions within the bureaucratic machinery are reluctant to accept this message. To do so would mean that they would have to acknowledge that they have been on the wrong train for most of their lives. That would be very psychologically painful.
What are the most pressing concerns for the Catholic Church today? Women's issues? Reproductive issues? Same sex issues? What do you think must be addressed in the days/years to come?
For me the major issue is the bureaucratisation of the Church’s agencies and corresponding tendency of the Church to mimic the practices of the corporate world. I think that this tendency sets up barriers to the work of grace. Before his election to the papacy Ratzinger wrote:
"The more administrative machinery we construct, be it the most modern, the less place there is for the Spirit, the less place there is for the Lord, and the less freedom there is."
He added that in his opinion, "we ought to begin an unsparing examination of conscience on this point at all levels of the Church".
I also think that seminarians need to be better educated, especially in the humanities. At present many are sent out into the world like lambs to the slaughter because they have no understanding of the intellectual opposition to Christianity. I feel sorry for people who are mature men who go into seminaries which are like boarding schools and where they are constantly monitored and analysed. I think it would be good to have a synod on the whole subject of priestly formation, both spiritual and academic.
Blessed John Paul II dealt with many of the issues in the field of moral theology, including the meaning and purpose of human sexuality. I think that as this field of human life becomes more and more technological, and thus, less human, the Church’s teaching will stand out starkly as the most humane attitude. Already non-Catholic feminists are starting to complain that the sexual revolution of the 1960s did not in fact liberate women. It just created a new set of problems. Each time there is a new problem, we have a new technological solution, which in turn creates new problems. The Catholic message is that there is such a thing as ‘human ecology’. It is taking time to take off, but I think it is taking off. Younger women are looking for an alternative vision from that offered to them by the feminists of the 1960s.
Thanks again, Tracey. Your have given us some tools to exegete this situation that cuts through the countless voices of the media etc. May God Be With You.