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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