News / Europe

Leading Dissident Priest Slams Covert Pope Selection Process

Pilgrims carry a cross as they arrive to pray in front of Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome, Feb. 11, 2013.Pilgrims carry a cross as they arrive to pray in front of Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome, Feb. 11, 2013.
Pilgrims carry a cross as they arrive to pray in front of Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome, Feb. 11, 2013.
Pilgrims carry a cross as they arrive to pray in front of Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome, Feb. 11, 2013.
A leading dissident Austrian priest whose call to disobey some Roman Catholic teachings drew a rebuke from Pope Benedict XVI last year has urged Church leaders to throw off their secrecy and canvas churchgoers on who should lead them next.

Rev. Helmut Schueller, head of a group of priests who openly challenge Church positions on taboo topics, such as priestly celibacy and ordaining women, said selecting a successor to Benedict provides a chance to embrace public debate.

Schueller said his group represents 10 percent of Austria's clergy and enjoys broad public support for its pledge to break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and divorced Catholics who remarry.

"If things were going well, the conclave fathers would at least be going out to the Church grassroots and calling meetings to really hear what the faithful expect,'' he told Reuters Wednesday in a phone interview.

"I find inappropriate this whole method that the cardinals withdraw into their own circle and something leaks out now and then about who might be under consideration,'' said Schueller, whose group is getting increasing attention abroad. "Most of the faithful know hardly anything about these people.''

Pope Frontrunners for Now
(Source: Reuters)

While there are no official candidates, here are the "papabili,'' potential popes, most frequently mentioned recently. The list is in alphabetical order.

  • Joao Braz de Aviz (Brazil, 65) brought fresh air to the  Vatican department for religious congregations when he took over in 2011. He supports the preference for the poor in Latin America's liberation theology, but not the excesses of its advocates.
  • Timothy Dolan, (USA, 62) became the voice of U.S. Catholicism after being named archbishop of New York in 2009. His humour and dynamism have impressed the Vatican, where both are often missing.
  • Marc Ouellet (Canada, 68) is effectively the Vatican's top staff director as head of the Congregation for Bishops. He once said becoming pope "would be a nightmare.''
  • Gianfranco Ravasi (Italy, 70) has been Vatican culture  minister since 2007 and represents the Church to the worlds of art, science, culture and even to atheists.
  • Leonardo Sandri (Argentina, 69) is a "transatlantic'' figure born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. He held the third-highest Vatican post as its chief of staff in 2000-2007.
  • Odilo Pedro Scherer (Brazilia, 63) ranks as Latin America's strongest candidate. He's Archbishop of Sao Paolo, largest diocese in the largest Catholic country.
  • Christoph Schoenborn (Austria, 67) is a former student of Pope Benedict with a pastoral touch the pontiff lacks. The Vienna archbishop has ranked as papal material since editing the Church catechism in the 1990s.
  • Angelo Scola (Italy, 71) is archbishop of Milan, a springboard to the papacy, and is many Italians' bet to win. An expert on bioethics, he also knows Islam as head of a foundation to promote Muslim-Christian understanding.
  • Luis Tagle (Philippines, 55) has a charisma often compared to that of the late Pope John Paul. He is also close to Pope Benedict after working with him at the International Theological Commission.
  • Peter Turkson (Ghana, 64) is the top African candidate. Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is spokesman for the Church's social conscience and backs world financial reform.
Some 117 cardinals will enter a closed-door conclave at the Vatican in mid-March to elect a successor to Benedict, who stunned the world's 1.2 billion Catholics on Monday by saying that he would step down on February 28.

There are no open campaigns or declared candidates for the post, and cardinals are forbidden by Church law from revealing for whom they voted. Many cardinals choose their favorite after a series of discreet contacts in the days before the election.

Coded language

One front-runner is Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn. Schueller was once his deputy in the Vienna archdiocese. His decision to debate with, rather than discipline, his dissident priests may count against Schoenborn among hard-line cardinals.

Schueller said such an important decision required all the time and effort needed to form a broad consensus rather than letting a small group of top leaders decide this in secret.

"A billion Catholics are listening to what is [being discussed] in entirely secretive, coded language,'' he complained, calling it undignified that the laity hear about the process only from journalists reporting from the Vatican.

"This passive waiting around is repugnant. It's really time, and commensurate with the dignity of the faithful, that [the cardinals] put their cards on the table,'' he said.

Reformist Austrian Catholics have for decades challenged the conservative policies of Benedict and his predecessor Pope John Paul II, creating protest movements and advocating changes that the Vatican firmly rejects.

Benedict, who for over two decades before his 2005 election was the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer, singled out the Austrian rebels for criticism last April while restating the church's ban on women priests.

The German-born pontiff said he would not put up with open revolt from clerics and lay people.

Vatican rules unchecked

Schueller said an outsider from Africa or Latin America would have his work cut out for him to take on Vatican insiders.

Two-thirds of today's Catholics live in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana and Cardinal Odilo Scherer of Brazil are among those mentioned as candidates.

"The biggest problem is that the Vatican establishment rules are unchecked over the global Church. Any pope who takes this on has to be well positioned, has to act strategically and has to get lots of cooperation from the bishops of the world,'' he said.

Even support from a broad basis, however, might not be enough for a new pope to put his stamp on the Church, he said.

"What good are [such] authorizations for the pope if the system quickly takes him prisoner? This is coming out more and more in the analyses, and may have been a significant factor of the resignation'' of Benedict, he said.

  • Pope Benedict greets the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, April 19, 2005.
  • Pope Benedict blesses a baby as he rides around St. Peter's Square to hold his last general audience at the Vatican Feb. 27, 2013.
  • Pope Benedict appears on a giant screen in a packed St. Peter's Square at the Vatican during his last general audience, February 27, 2013.
  • Pope Benedict arrives to attend a meeting with seminarians at the Romano Maggiore seminary in Rome, February 8, 2013.
  • Pope Benedict waves as he arrives to lead the weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, April 18, 2012.
  • Pope Benedict wears a sombrero, a traditional Mexican hat, while being driven through the crowd before officiating a mass in Silao, Mexico, March 25, 2012.
  • Pope Benedict holds his cross as he leads a solemn mass in Zagreb, Croatia, June 5, 2011.
  • Pope Benedict visits the Ardeatine Caves Memorial in Rome, Italy, March 27, 2011.
  • Pope Benedict leaves after an audience with Vatican-accredited diplomats at the Vatican, January 10, 2011.
  • Pope Benedict visits the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 12, 2009.
  • Pope Benedict waves to the crowd gathered in Saint Peter's square during his weekly Angelus blessing at the Vatican, May 16, 2010.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama meet with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, July 10, 2009.

You May Like

Video Obama: Action on Climate Change 'Economic, Security Imperative'

President spoke to reporters on sidelines of UN Climate Summit outside Paris, where leaders are working to agree on binding measures

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

What Happened When I Landed in Antarctica

Refael Klein chronicles what it's like to visit one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs