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Why Not Limit The Term of the New Pope?

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Elected officials usually go in knowing they have a limited time to get the job done. In the United States those elected to the House of Representatives get two years, United States Senators get six years, and the President of the United States gets four years. This makes sense because as the years pass, people change as do those they represent. Now, as the College of Cardinals meets to elect a new pope, I think they should consider limiting the time he will stay in office.

Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign opens new possibilities for the papacy. As the cardinals contemplate their future leader, and thus the direction of the Catholic Church, they should definitely consider limiting the pope’s term in office. Why not designate a ten-year term or even a shorter one? Being the leader of over 1 billion Catholics worldwide, the pope needs to change with the times. A more fluid process and quicker turnaround would enable the Church to better meet the needs of its people.

Many Catholics respect and admire the papacy, but they often go about their daily lives taking their own direction. If a pope truly wants to be a modern leader and have a significant voice, he has to adapt and bring the Church along with him. A new pope needs to think about empowering the laity and placing them in leadership roles. He must find a way to give women more important roles and contemplate permitting them to enter the priesthood; furthermore, he should definitely rise to the challenge of increasing vocations by allowing all religious the ability to get married.

Yes, these are difficult things and it won’t happen overnight, but the right leader could get it done. That is why it essential that the new pope comes from someplace other than Europe. A person from South America or Africa would bring a fresh and much needed new perspective to the papacy; he would also be more likely to be realistic about taking the Church in a new direction.

By limiting the term of the pope Catholics worldwide would not feel as if they were trapped with a leader who doesn’t hear them or care about what they really need. If a very traditional pope (as was Benedict) is locked in for life, the chances for change are minimal, but with a pope elected for a limited time, there would be hope that the next one to come in would see things differently.

Obviously this will seem radical to traditionalists, but anyone who is realistic knows the church is in trouble. People aren’t rushing into religious life, and perhaps with a new leader with a fresh outlook more people will be encouraged to pursue service and ministry. They should also want to bring more people into the church and not alienate those Catholics already onboard. The selection of the new pope is critical in this process.

Hopefully one day (and very soon) the papacy will be regulated as all elected officials should be. Until then, the selection of a pope from the Third World will be a much needed change. Let’s hope that as the College of Cardinals meets in Rome that it will have the capacity for envisioning not what is best for them but for the people that they serve.

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charlie Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • Josh

    I think this would be a good idea, but would ultimately kill the cult of personality that the “Vicar of Christ” is supposed to have. Emphasis on the word ‘cult.’

  • Baronius

    This article doesn’t seem to be about a term limit. It’s about how to best implement the particular changes that Victor wants to see, and he believes that a term limit would help. I personally would have not problem with a term limit, but I don’t believe it would make Victor’s goals more likely.

    He cites three policies: lay leadership, female priests, and married clergy. Why lay leadership, or rather why more lay leadership? We have parish staff and councils, diocesan staff, lay hospitals and schools, and third orders.

    Female priests – the Church has said that they don’t believe it to be possible. Even if you think they’re wrong, it’s difficult to see how they’d change this. They wouldn’t just have to change their position on women priests; they’d have to change their understanding of their teaching authority. And at some point, a Catholic should at least consider the possibility that the Church is right.

    As for married clergy, I don’t see the appeal. Are we lacking new vocations to the priesthood? We’re suffering from a shortage of priests, but that shortage was caused during the 1960’s and 1970’s. From 1978 to 2010 the number of Catholics has increased 58%, but the number of seminarians has increased 86%.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Thing is, though, Baronius, where are these new Catholics and new clergy coming from? Probably not Europe or North America. If so, it would make some sense for the new Pope to come from South America, Africa or possibly Asia. Victor’s right that such a man would bring a new perspective to the papacy, but not necessarily a forward-looking one, at least not as we Westerners would perceive it.

    I have a few objections to term limits in general, but the obvious one in this case is that the Roman Catholic Church is 2000 years old and global, and enormous old institutions don’t change much without a huge internal struggle. They certainly don’t change fast. Even ten years probably wouldn’t be sufficient for a pontiff to see a comprehensive agenda like Victor’s through, especially with no guarantees that his successor would be of a similar mind. John Paul II had almost 30 years, and while he did effect some dramatic (though not fundamental) changes, he still left the Church much as he found it.

    What people often forget is that the Pope’s primary job is not to make life better for his flock on Earth, but to prepare it for the eternal life beyond. And the Church he heads is structured to that end.

  • Baronius

    Dread, I have a lot of difficulty with your comment. Your second paragraph contains a lot of assumptions. Probably none of them is bigger than your implied ranking of the magnitude of changes. Personally, I don’t see anything comprehensive in Victor’s agenda. Lay leadership already exists; a female priesthood will never happen; married priests are unlikely to have much of an impact at all. I think we need to define our criteria before we start to compare changes. Your last paragraph gives one criterion that is important, although I’m not sure how it matches with your second paragraph.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Not sure I can adequately respond to your #4 without a bit of clarification as to your understanding of the “magnitude of changes”, Baronius. I’m thinking of things that John Paul II did such as fast-tracking the canonization process, recognizing the work of Galileo and other historical apostate scientists as valid, extensive papal international travel etc: dramatic and in many cases worthy moves, but not, as far as I can tell, actions that fundamentally changed the Church.

    My last paragraph basically points out what the Church is “for”. It’s not a feel-good agency but a spiritual one, and as such, appeals such as Victor’s for it to “modernize” can miss the fundamental point.

  • Baronius

    OK. That helps me to get a feel for what you consider important. I think most non-Catholics would consider his fight against Communism to be his major accomplishment. Most Catholics would cite his “theology of the body” and the publication of the Catechism. Most critics would castigate him for failing to perceive the sex abuse problem.

    You do raise a question, that I raised in terms of the question of female priests: is it possible for the Church to fundamentally change? Obviously, the definition of “fundamentally” is crucial to the answer. But a lot of things that the Church’s critics would like to change are matters of faith and morals, which the Church doesn’t believe it can alter.