VATICAN CITY (AP) — The moment Cardinal Albino Luciani learned his colleagues had elected him pope, he responded: “May God forgive you for what you’ve done.” The remark, by the man who became Pope John Paul I, was seen as an expression of humility — but also a commentary on the mammoth task ahead.
There is no job like that of pope. He is the CEO of a global enterprise, head of state, a moral voice in the world and, in the eyes of Roman Catholics, Christ’s representative on earth.
And the man who emerges as pontiff from the conclave starting Tuesday has a particularly crushing to-do list.
Here are some of the challenges awaiting the next pope:
REFORM: The next pope will have to restore discipline to the scandal-plagued central administration of the church. Benedict XVI, the former pope, commissioned a report on the Vatican bureaucracy, or Curia, that will be shown only to his successor. Benedict’s butler had leaked the pope’s private papers revealing feuding, corruption and cronyism at the highest levels of administration. The secretive Vatican bank recently ousted a president for incompetence and is under pressure for greater financial transparency. Bishops in several countries say nonresponsive Vatican officials are hampering local churches. The Curia decides everything from bishop appointments and liturgy, to parish closings and discipline for abusive priests.
SEX ABUSE: The Vatican remains under pressure to reveal more about its past role in the church’s failures to protect children worldwide. The issue erupted ahead of the conclave, when victims from the U.S., Chile and Mexico pressured cardinals to recuse themselves because they had shielded priests from prosecution. Benedict instructed bishops around the world to craft policies to keep abusers from the priesthood, but church leaders in some nations haven’t yet complied. “There’s still the victims,” Chicago Cardinal Francis George said in a news conference last week. “The wound is still deep in their hearts, and as long as it’s with them it will be with us. The pope has to keep this in mind.”
EMPTY PEWS: Secularism has already taken a toll on churches in Europe and the U.S., where a growing number of people don’t identify with a faith. The move away from organized religion is also hurting parishes in Latin America. Churches in Brazil and other predominantly Catholic countries in South America already had been losing members to the spirited worship found in independent Pentecostal movements. As the church loses members, it also loses influence in public life in many countries. Church opposition to same-sex marriage has been largely ineffective in the West. The next pope must be a missionary-in-chief, with the gravitas, charisma and personal holiness to bring Catholics back to church.