Robert McClory is a former priest who has written prolifically about the Catholic Church. Here he talks about his response to Pope Benedict’s sudden resignation, the challenges the church faces and who could be the next pope.
Why did Pope Benedict [resign] now, during the holiest time of the year?
I think he decided that he couldn’t continue the job of Pope at the level he wanted to. I don’t think there was any necessary connection between the decision and the time of year.
I give him a lot of courage and common sense for saying he should resign.
In the last 700 years, no pope has resigned. In some cases, they should have resigned.
It’s a mark of his character to say he’s not the one to lead the institution any more.
I think that’s great.
Is this decision in keeping with his character?
It certainly is in keeping. He’s been consistent since he’s been pope, and before that when he was head of the Office of Doctrine of the Pope. He’s been very conservative. In the earlier Vatican Council, he was very outspoken liberal. A number of things happened to him to change his opinion.
What were those things that changed his views?
After the Second Vatican Council, he decided that the opening of the modern world was a very dangerous thing and was leading to problems of relativism and secularism. He thought the church had to stand up as a bulwark of those trends.
In one of your books you described then-Cardinal Ratzinger as very ambitious. How does this decision fit in with that personal ambition?
I just think he’s a very sincere and holy man. He sees thing the way he sees them as faras the church. He’s saying, “I am not the person to lead the church in any direction.”
To think of that position as a job, rather than an identity, is a great step forward.
Has his papacy been a continuation or a break with that of John Paul II?
He is a continuation of John Paul II. This concern about secularism and relativism was a big issue with John Paul II. Pope Benedict had continued that with absolute attempt to make the church more conservative and make the church more obedient.
It’s an attempt to pull the church back into an earlier a period, back into another century.
For that reason I am very, very critical of that direction.
How about areas like relations with the Jewish community?
He did not follow suit on a lot of these things. He offended the Jews in various speeches. It was a number of things every few months for a while. He offended the Jews, the Moslems, the Protestant, and the women.
What will his legacy be?
Pope Benedict has been very hard on everyone within the church. It’s a top-down operation.
John Paul has become convinced that that’s the way to operate; Benedict has continued this. I think that his legacy will not be all that positive. We have been losing Catholics at an incredible rate. We’re hemorrhaging Catholics at a rate that is unprecedented.
In America the largest group is Roman Catholics, but the second-largest group is former Catholics. It’s very, very sad to see this kind of intransigence.
Who might be the next Pope?
They’ve been talking about in Catholic circles that the next pope could be from South America, or Africa. It could be an American. If that were to occur, I don’t know what would happen. It would depend on the nature of the particular position of that person. The papacy, the Vatican staff, is very concerned about financing the church. Three quarters or more of the finance of the Church comes from the U.S. or Europe, they might want to pick the pope from there. Cardinal Dolan is the head of the U.S. Bishop. He might be considered a candidate. Often there’s a surprise. I hope there’s a surprise. I would be fearful that Pope Benedict has named 70 or 80 percent of the cardinals. John Paul II did nothing about the sex abuse in the church. We need somebody with a clear mind and a lot of energy to wade into that kind of problem. Benedict sensed he couldn’t do that. Hopefully we will get someone with energy and who is more open to the Second Vatican Council
Do you think it will be Father Pfleger?
No, he’s not going to be pope. I would be a better candidate than Father Pfleger.