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Pope must have diverse skill set, theologians say

Tony LaRussa
| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 8:02 p.m.

The next leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics will require diverse skills to steer the church through increasingly complex challenges, some of the region's top theologians said.

“I hope the next pope is a diplomat and has a real gift for reconciliation,” said Maureen Crossen, associate professor of theology at Carlow University in Oakland. “He will be well served by an ability to listen authentically to diverse groups in the church.”

He must be a virtuous man “who is very deeply rooted in prayer.” Add to that “a great deal of humility.”

“And he should have the ability to recognize the church's weaknesses and believe in the power of God's mercy to restore vitality to the church,” she said.

The 117 “cardinal-electors” — including three with ties to Western Pennsylvania — are traveling to the Vatican to elect the successor to Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415, according to the Catholic News Service.

Benedict, who succeeded Pope John Paul II in 2005, said he lacked the strength to fulfill his duties. He will turn 86 in April.

The challenges facing the next pope “depends on what part of the Catholic world you look at,” said Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus of the Duquesne University Law School.

“A major issue in Europe and the United States is the lack of vocations (to religious life),” said Cafardi, who holds a doctorate in canon law from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.

“In South America, the challenge is the significant loss of Catholics to evangelical and Pentecostal denominations. And in African countries, the church faces difficulties coexisting with large Muslim populations.”

It's critical for the new pope to be a “good collaborator,” he said.

“Like any effective CEO, the Holy Father sets the tone and picks people who share his vision,” Cafardi said. “He can then move forward with his collaborators to put his stamp on the church.”

The Rev. Peter Horton, who teaches religious studies at La Roche College and serves as director of campus ministry, agrees that revitalizing the faith in the United States and Europe is among the greatest challenges for the next pontiff.

“While the faith is growing in Third World countries, attendance is declining here and in Europe, and we don't really know why,” Horton said. “Our message hasn't changed — it's still focused on Jesus and his message of salvation.”

Part of the new pope's mission will be to use technology to “get the word out about who we are and what we have to offer,” he said.

The Rev. Brian O'Donnell, superior of the Jesuit Community at Wheeling Jesuit University, is hoping the next pope “will have a really intensive, frank exchange with his bishops.”

“Such a dialogue would go a long way toward giving due notice to the fact that the vast majority of the church is outside of Europe,” he said. “It also would recognize the contributions of the non-European Catholic church, where there is a great deal of creative and interesting thinking going on.”

The church would benefit from a pope who would continue to advance the role of the laity, O'Donnell said.

“The pope needs to stress to his bishops the importance of listening to and using the talents of lay people and more deeply respecting the presence of the Holy Spirit in them.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or

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