Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. He is the author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.”
Next month, 116 cardinals from across the globe will gather inside the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, invoke the Holy Spirit and elect a pope to replace Benedict XVI, who’s resigning at the end of this month. Behind closed doors, cut off from the outside world, they will choose a leader who will have an impact on not only the Catholic Church but the entire planet. Let’s look at some of the misconceptions about how the cardinals will select the latest successor to Saint Peter.
1. Pope Benedict resigned, rather than remain in office until death, so he could influence the cardinals to elect someone like him.
In Washington, we tend to be suspicious of the explanations politicians give for anything, but in the case of the pope’s resignation, the explanation — his deteriorating health — appears to be accurate. Benedict recognizes that he is no longer up to the job, and he should be honored for giving up power and position for the good of the church. He is moving out of Rome after he steps down to avoid the appearance of trying to influence the election. “He will not interfere in any way,” a Vatican spokesman said the day after the announcement.