News / Europe

Benedict Bids Farewell; Cardinals Face A Difficult Choice

Pope Benedict makes his last public appearance on Wednesday, a day before becoming the first pontiff to resign in nearly six centuries. The change comes at a time of daunting challenges for the Roman Catholic church.

Pope Benedict is bidding farewell and preparing for the time when he will no longer lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

But Vatican officials say that as "pope emeritus" he will still wear a pontifical robe.

"He will wear a simple white cassock without the mozzeta, I think it is called, the little cape on top, a simple white cassock," Rosica said.

Benedict leaves his successor with contentious issues - corruption and clerical sex scandals, and declining church attendance in developed countries.

To deal with these challenges, the Vatican needs to shed its doctrinaire approach, says Reverend Thomas Reese of Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center.

"Pope Benedict said it very well when he said that Christianity should be presented not as a series of 'nos' like a nagging mother, but as a series of 'yeses.'  A yes to Jesus, a yes to love, to peace to justice," Reese said.

Over the next few weeks, 115 cardinals from around the world will choose the next pontiff at a conclave in Rome.

Benedict and his predecessor John Paul II were selected on the basis of their superior intelligence, says the Jesuit priest.

"Should we repeat that? Should they look around and say, 'Okay, who's the smartest man in the room? We're going to elect him.' Or, should they look around and say, 'Let's find the man who will listen to all the other smart people in the church,'" Reese said.

Some Catholics say the next pope should hail from Africa where Catholicism is growing rapidly, while others believe he should come from Europe or America, where the church faces its most serious challenges.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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