Q: Will Pope Benedict be so damaged by the clergy abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church in Europe that his papacy never recovers? Or does the crisis offer him an opportunity to distinguish his leadership from John Paul II`s wildly successful years as Pope?
The papacy exists on a level that no other position, station, office or title can come close to approximating. It`s unique in the world. It has been in place — uninterrupted — for over 2,000 years. The Church is the oldest continuous government in the world.
It has survived the destruction of the Roman Empire, the black plague, the dark ages, the Crusades, hundreds of wars, schisms, anti-popes, the Protestant Reformation, the the Enlightenment, the Reign of Terror, two world wars, civil wars in Italy, the scientific and industrial revolutions and countless other cultural, political, economic, social and natural challenges.
The Pope presides over 1.1 billion to 1.5 billion people worldwide — 20 percent of the people currently on earth choose to follow him. Only China can rival that, and those people don`t necessarily follow that power by choice, but by force.
Even if 75 percent of Catholics abandoned the church tomorrow, the pope would still have more followers than there are people in the U.S.
Which leads to a weird, but undeniable truth about the Church: It moves at a different speed and on a different level than any other organization on earth. It`s so old and so huge that it moves like a glacier. This scandal is big, but it isn`t as huge as other challenges the Church has endured through the millennia. So they`re not responding with panic or energy.
I think this may lead to pressure being applied to choose a “clean” candidate for Pope when Benedict dies. Maybe someone young (like John Paul II was when he took over) who hasn`t spent 50 years entrenched in Vatican back-room politicking.
It`s unlikely they`d go for a reformer of any sort as their fastest-growing flocks come from parts of the world that aren`t terribly progressive. I wouldn`t be surprised to see them draw a candidate from Africa or South America, as a nod to the church`s growing influence.