CARDINALS plan to ask the next pope to pledge in his inaugural address that he will serve until his death, unlike Benedict XVI, whose resignation, they believe, has destabilised the Catholic Church.
Doubts have emerged about the impact of Benedict’s decision as the cardinals begin a series of meetings, known as general congregations, to discuss the church’s future.
Italian reports suggest some church leaders believe Benedict’s departure has undermined the sacredness of the office. An unnamed cardinal told the Corriere della Sera newspaper it was impossible to abolish the rule that a pope had the right to resign of his own freewill. “But for the future we need to safeguard the freedom of the church from external influences,” he said, amid fears that a pope could be pressured into stepping down.
Oon Friday, Benedict said he was “not abandoning the Cross, I am staying in a new way”. This was seen as a response to Polish cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, a former personal secretary to Pope John Paul II, who said of his resignation: “One doesn’t step down from the Cross.”
The cardinals are expected to focus on the spiritual mission many see as the priority for the next pope, bringing Christ’s message to the secular West and developing countries where the number of Catholics is growing.
Other issues include reform of the Vatican bureaucracy that has been hit by a scandal over leaks from Benedict’s office.
Benedict agreed that three cardinals who investigated the “Vatileaks” scandal would give their peers details of their secret report. The Vatican has denied allegations that it reveals a gay network of blackmailers.
The cardinals have already begun meeting in small groups to discuss their choice of successor. Observers noted that as he said farewell to the cardinals on Friday, Benedict spent the longest time with Angelo Scola of Milan, Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, all seen as possible successors.
“Among you there is the future pope, to whom today I declare my unconditional reverence and obedience,” Benedict told all the cardinals.