By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
Whoever is elected pope by the cardinals locked in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City will have to confront a variety of issues, including the ongoing scandals facing the Roman Catholic Church.
“There’s going to be balancing act of two things: one is going to be a proper response to the various scandals that the church has faced,” said Jeffrey K. Mann, chairman of the religious studies department and an associate professor at Susquehanna University.
“The other is the ongoing issue of how progressive does the Roman Catholic Church become in the early 21st century.”
The pope also will have to deal with issues on an international scale, said Deacon Martin McCarthy, school administrator and high school principal of Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School in Coal Township.
“He has to be a strong leader . . . and willing to take on the tough issues from all over the world,” McCarthy said. “We’re way past the days of isolationism and staying in Rome.”
In that spirit, the new pope will have to embrace social media, at least for sending some basic messages to followers, McCarthy said.
“We can communicate in seconds with every diocese in the world,” he said.
The papal conclave started Tuesday, with 115 cardinals from around the world holding the trust of the world’s Roman Catholics in their hands.
About 27 percent of Pennsylvanians are Catholic, which is just slightly above the national average of 26 percent, according to the Official Catholic Directory.
But that doesn’t mean the new pope will be American, Mann said.
“I don’t believe it is a matter of competence or ethnicity, but of appearances,” he said. “Having a representative from the world’s most powerful nation serve as the head of the largest religious institution in the world appears like an amalgam of too much power – especially in a church that wants to show a preference for the poor and marginalized.”
But the new pope may not be from Italy either, Mann said.
“While the preference for Italians can look unfair, the pope is, after all, the bishop of Rome,” he said. “However, with two in a row born outside Italy, and the undeniably international nature of the papacy, the preference for Italians is likely subsiding.”
Mann also said he doesn’t foresee a young pope, such as Filipino cardinal Luis Tagle, 55, being chosen either.
“John Paul II served for a long time, which is really unusual,” he said. “The church is probably not interested in investing such power to a single individual for what could easily be 30 years.”
Many of Mann’s students have been asking questions about the process of selecting the new pope, but are generally unaware of the leading candidates, Mann said.
“I don’t think people are rooting for anyone in particular,” he said.
At Lourdes, students will be eagerly watching for the white smoke to come from the Sistine Chapel, which means a new pope has been elected.
“When they’re voting we can turn the TV,” he said. “There’s an excitement that comes with it.”