Maria Freydell | At a cross-roads
Guest Column | What a Latin American Pope would mean for the Vatican
February 13, 2013, 11:38 pm·
Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation marks more than just a once-in-six-centuries event. It also marks an implicit turning point for the Church — the mentality is to find support in its followers instead of remaining a deaf institution. For the first time, the clergy is willing and eager to elect a non-European leader.
Two senior officials that are part of the European stronghold over Vatican power have already made statements supporting a leader with broader roots — specifically from Latin America or Africa. They both expressed willingness to vote for these candidates if they were as well-prepared as European ones.
The reality is that the division of power at the Vatican is at odds with the distribution of the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic population in the world: Europeans comprise only 25 percent of followers versus Latin America’s 42 percent, but more than half the cardinals who can vote are from Europe. However, the overall follower population continues to shrink, and the reservoir of Hispanic priests has moved to lead congregations in the United States and Europe alike, also indicating no real growth in clergy.
Logic dictates that if the Church does not tend to its followers and what they represent, it may not be able to maintain them in an increasingly agnostic world.
Therefore, the willingness to have a leader that can better relate to his followers is part of a larger movement to listen and respond to Catholic followers — instead of exerting the type of paternalistic authority that has reigned in the Vatican from colonial times.
This diversifying effort began with Pope John Paul II, who put his personal stamp on Latin America and its controversial issues of social justice, liberation theology and church political involvement.
Similarly, the Latin American congregation has a unique perspective on Catholicism that is founded on its history of evangelization, culture and family structures, requiring a different discourse from clergy than from elsewhere.
However, even the followers in Latin America are not immune to the same trends that have affected their European counterparts in the past two centuries.
As globalization infiltrates Latin Americans’ daily lives, it will tend to make opinions more varied within the population. How fast the Church is able to respond to these trends will determine its chances of survival. A pope that has a wide-rooted background will be more likely to speak to these interests.
Maria Freydell is a College and Wharton senior. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.