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Benedict XVI sets down the ‘great burden’

01 March 2013


Farewell:Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the Pope's personal secretary, wipes his eye during the final address

Farewell:Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the Pope's personal secretary, wipes his eye during the final address

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 week.

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 office.

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 abuse.

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 vote.

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 non-European?

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