PITTSFORD — Pope John Paul II left a complex legacy, and although no one knows what the reign of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, will be like, there are certain issues the new pope should address, according to participants in an April 19 panel discussion.
“The Legacy of Pope John Paul II and Challenges Facing the Next Pope,” which was presented at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, was planned with the assumption that a new pope would not have been chosen by the time the discussion took place. The five panelists — Mark Hare, Democrat and Chronicle columnist; Dr. Christine Bochen, professor of religious studies at Nazareth College; G. Thomas Halbrooks, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School; Larry Fine, executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of Greater Rochester; and Father Lee Chase, pastor of Brighton’s St. Thomas More Parish — were thrown a surprise twist when former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope just hours before the discussion took place.
There is a tendency in today’s culture to compress everything into sound bites, said Father Chase, such as referring to Pope Pius XII as “Hitler’s pope” or Pope John XXIII as the pope of the Second Vatican Council. It’s too soon to know what will stand out the most among Pope John Paul II’s many accomplishments, but there’s a good chance it will have something to do with his social doctrine and the emphasis he placed on the dignity of life, Father Chase added.
Bochen agreed, and said she feels the word “witness” most accurately describes the impact of John Paul II’s papacy.
“That witness was integrated and it was integral. The most amazing thing was the consistency of the dignity of that message of life,” she said.
Bochen admitted that in the weeks before Pope John Paul’s death, she had taken part in conversations about whether he should resign. In his steadfast refusal to step down, however, he taught the world a final lesson on how to live and respect life, and also how to die, she said.
Through his life and death, the former pope showed the world that God will not ask more of you than you can handle, Hare said. That message, combined with his human presence, will be Pope John Paul II’s legacy, he added.
Pope John Paul II will also be remembered for the way he carried the church to the world, Halbrooks said, calling the former pope “the apostle to reach out.”
His papacy was unusually significant for the Jewish community, Fine said, noting that John Paul II’s reign was “probably the first time in Jewish history the Jews did not see the Catholic church as threatening.” John Paul II grew up with Jewish friends — even playing on a Jewish soccer team — and lived in Poland during the time of the Holocaust. That background probably played a large part in John Paul II’s attitude toward Jews and the relationship between Jews and Catholics, he said.
“I hope that the level of understanding among faiths continues in a time when fundamentalism is growing. Increasingly we’re living in a polarized world. John Paul II did much to decrease that polarization, and we can only pray that that will continue,” Fine said.
Pope Benedict XVI grew up in Germany during World War II and was present for many of Pope John Paul II’s discussions with Jewish leaders, so the local Jewish community is hopeful that the new pope will continue the dialogue and respectful relationship his predecessor began, Fine said.
Pope John Paul II also changed the way the world views the papacy, Hare said, noting he’d recently read that more people saw the former pope in person than anyone else in history. For this reason, all future popes must have a face to the world and a presence to the world, he said. Pope Benedict XVI doesn’t have to be just like Pope John Paul II, but he does have to follow his predecessor’s example and be a pope for the world, he added.
“That expectation is now there,” he said. “The task before the church today is to recover a sense of unity in diversity and to understand that we are a universal church with many customs, many cultures that we have to embrace.”
Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI will have to address issues such as contraception, the ordination of women and allowing priests to marry, Halbrooks said.
“How is Benedict XVI going to hold the church together with a very conservative, Third-World church and a church in America and Europe interested in new directions and new possibilities?” Halbrooks asked.
The eyes of the world have been on the Vatican in the weeks leading up to Pope John Paul II’s death and the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, Father Chase said, which has helped Roman Catholics come to a better understanding of the universal nature of the Catholic church.
Pope Benedict XVI will need to address the needs of the whole church, Bochen said.
“The pope is in a position to listen to and to be responsive to the needs of people all over the world,” Bochen said.
Several of the people who attended the discussion expressed their needs and concerns. Pope Benedict XVI should engage in a dialogue with and be welcoming to the gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual population, said one man in the audience who said he is gay. Pope John Paul II made him feel like a stranger, and he said he is afraid Pope Benedict XVI will do the same.
The new pope also needs to engage in dialogue about women and the God-given gifts they bring to the church, said Gloria Ulterino, former director of the diocesan Office on Women in Church and Society. This dialogue was silenced during John Paul II’s papacy, and unless the conversation is allowed to take place, the church won’t benefit from the wisdom of all the people it is made up of, she said.
Bochen reminded the audience not to forget that the church is the people of God. She also noted that the pope is only one person, and there is only so much a single person can do.
“It is so easy in this atmosphere to put all of our attention on the papacy,” she said.
Hare admitted he’s uneasy about what will happen during Benedict XVI’s papacy. Some of the former cardinal’s actions, such as his reluctance to allow Turkey into the European Union, have given Hare some doubts.
Father Chase, however, said he was heartened by several references to faith he found in the new pope’s previous addresses. He also thinks the papacy will change the new Benedict XVI.
“I think we may be in for some surprises. He’s not John Paul III; he’s his own man,” Father Chase said. “All I can say is fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a fast ride.”Tags: Pope Benedict XVI