Heavy Workload Awaits Next Pope; Church in Turmoil

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EMPTY PULPITS: Europe and North America need more priests. Clergy in developing countries need more resources. And everywhere, priests are struggling with the outsized burdens of the modern-day pastor. The job requires fundraising, personal counseling and an ability to uphold doctrine, often to Catholics who don’t want to listen. The abuse crisis, meanwhile, casts a shadow on today’s clergy, even though most known molestation cases occurred decades ago. In recent years, some priests have made their own proposals to strengthen their ranks. Clergy in heavily Catholic Austria in 2011 called for ordaining women and relaxing the celibacy requirement. Benedict rebuked them.


RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION: Catholics and other Christians live as religious minorities in many countries, including Syria, India and China, where they face discrimination, government interference and, in many cases, violence as they try to practice their faith. The issue is a rare one that unites religious leaders across faiths. The pope is considered a key voice in the fight. Some of the tougher conditions are in Muslim nations, which often ban and punish Christian evangelizing. Addressing the issue requires utmost diplomacy; a misstep can cost lives.


GLOBALIZATION: While the church is shrinking in the West, it’s booming in Africa and Asia. The new pope will have to shift much of his attention to the challenges for these relatively new dioceses: a life-and-death fight against poverty; threats from radical Muslim movements; and maintaining Catholic orthodoxy while leaving room for local styles of worship.


OTHER FAITHS: The new pope will have to keep up friendships with a long list of other Christian groups and other religions, including Orthodox Christians, Anglicans and Jews. But his most pressing task will be navigating relations with Islam. The importance of the issue was made starkly clear in the fallout from Benedict’s 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, in which he cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman.” Benedict made many efforts to mend fences, including praying beside an imam that same year at the historic Blue Mosque in Istanbul.


UNITY: The next pontiff inherits a church divided over the role of lay people and women, on doctrine and social justice teaching — even on what is required to be considered Catholic. In Benedict’s final audience with cardinals, he urged them to work “like an orchestra” where “agreement and harmony” can be reached despite diversity. He could have been talking to the whole church.

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