A POPE from Asia, where "joy and hopefulness" offered a
counterpoint to the bleakness of Europe, should not be ruled out,
the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, said on Wednesday. He
spoke as cardinals gathered in Rome to prepare for the conclave to
elect the new pontiff, the date of which will be announced next
On the same day, Pope Benedict XVI made his final public
appearance, before stepping down yesterday (
News, 15 February). The Pope's press officer, Fr Federico
Lombardi, said that more than 50,000 tickets had been requested for
the final general audience in St Peter's Square.
Addressing the crowd, Pope Benedict said of his eight years in
office: "I have had moments of joy and light, but also moments that
haven't been easy . . . moments of turbulent seas and rough winds."
When he was asked to accept the position, he had told God: "It's a
great burden that you have placed on my shoulders."
Dr Croft represented the Church of England in Rome last October
at the Synod of Bishops (
News, 5 October). He said this week that the reports he had
heard from bishops in Europe were "really very bleak in terms of
the difficulty of transmitting faith and the struggle to rebuild
the Church in formerly Communist lands, where memories of
persecution are still very sharp".
Those from Asia had offered something "distinctive. . . The
Christian community . . . is used to being in a minority group. . .
They are still often in the missionary situation therefore. The
Asian bishops had a joy and hopefulness to them, which I think
refreshed the whole synod."
The Vatican announced on Tuesday that Pope Benedict would
continue to be called His Holiness Benedict XVI and styled Pope
Emeritus. He would continue to wear a white cassock, but would not
wear the papal red shoes. His Fisherman's Ring and papal seal would
be destroyed, as they pertained specifically to the papal
On Tuesday, the Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, Cardinal
Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, said that the next pope would be elected
with a "very clear mandate" to address the scandals that have
dogged the Roman Catholic Church, including that of child
Speaking at a press conference, he said: "There is no doubt that
there has to be reform, that these issues have to be addressed at
the highest level. It is not just the job of the pope but the job
of the bishops."
Without this reform, he said, "There is no doubt that not just
the image of the Church but the effectiveness of the Church in
witnessing to the good news will be affected."
Asked whether other cardinals with "a shadow over their names"
should consider following Cardinal O'Brien's example in absenting
himself from the forthcoming conclave, he replied: "That is up to
their own conscience."
Asked whether it was important to elect a new Pope "free from
any taint or cover-up", the Archbishop said that the cardinals
"will be thinking of a man of probity". But he cautioned: "It is
not going to be a saint. We are all sinners. But I am sure the man
they elect will be of irreproachable character, as far as you can
say . . . I have no worries about that."
On Wednesday, Dr Croft said that issues around child protection
and abuse had been the subject of a number of reports from bishops
presented at the October synod. There were "not just one but many
voices saying we need to take this very seriously".
The decision by Cardinal O'Brien not to attend the conclave
means that the United Kingdom will have no representative in the
election of the new pope. It is tradition that there is only one
English or Welsh voting cardinal in the conclave, and Cardinal
Murphy-O'Connor's age - he is 80 - means that he is not eligble to
After fielding several questions about the scandals, Cardinal
Murphy-O'Connor sought to express hope for the RC Church.
"I am a man of hope," he said. "We have had lots of troubles,
and there have been troubles in the past; the Church has always
been able to reform itself. They have to be repented, and reforms
need to be made. . ."
Question of the Week: Should the next Pope be a