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After Pope John Paul II: Future of the Papacy

Member of the College of Cardinals To Meet in Conclave

Msgr. Kevin McCoy
Rector, Pontifical North American College
Monday, April 4, 2005; 3:00 PM

The body of Pope John Paul II, clad in crimson and white vestments, was put on display in Clementine Hall in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican on Sunday for a private viewing by Italy's prime minister and other dignitaries. It will be transferred on Monday afternoon for public viewing in St. Peter's Basilica.

The event set in motion an elaborate ritual of mourning and transition required by church law that will culminate, if all goes as planned, in the selection of a new pope sometime in the next month.

Msgr. Kevin McCoy, rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome which trains seminarians to become priests, was online Monday, April 4, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the future of the papacy.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


washingtonpost.com: Msgr. McCoy, welcome to washingtonpost.com. We're glad to have you with us from Rome where it is now 9.p.m., right?

The body of Pope John Paul was moved to St. Peter's Basilica today for public viewing and we now know from the College of Cardinals that the Pope's funeral will occur on Friday. What else did we learn today?

Msgr. Kevin McCoy: Yes, the funeral is on Friday at 10 in the morning, Rome time which is 4 a.m. your time.

What I understand is that His Holiness left no burial instructions or a last will and testament. Pope Paul VI, when he died in 1978, one of his last requests was that he be buried in the truth earth. So as a result, those responsible for carrying out his last wishes had to dig a tomb in a crypt.

So the burial of Pope John Paul II will take place in the Basilica.


Nova Scotia: I realize that this may not be the proper forum for this question but we really would like to know -- can you tell us why no cardinal over 80 is allowed to vote in the Conclave? Thank you.

Msgr. Kevin McCoy: It's Pope John Paul II's responsibility to define the rules that relate to the election of his successor. So actually on Feb. 22 of 1996, he issued an apostolic constitution that spoke to the rules regarding the vacancy of the Holy See and the election of the new Roman pontiff. So those are the rules that we are currently following and all that we've seen thus far since his death are governed by this document. And if anyone is interested in reading this document in English, they can go to www.vatican.va and on the search engine just enter Apostolic Constitution and there will be a number of them that come up on the screen, click on UNIVERSI DOMINICI GREGIS. You can read in English a 22-page document which explains every step of the election process.


Alexandria, Va.: We hear of a desire to now elect a "transitional" Pope. Transitional from what to what? What circumstances make a short-term Pope particularly attractive today? Under what circumstances would they elect a "permanent" Pope?

Msgr. Kevin McCoy: In this period the cardinals are meeting daily to provide for the continuing operations of the church and they will meet to discuss the large issues that they need to address and have concern as the meet to election the supreme pontiff. So they're going to have to be concerned with issues regarding all seven continents. It's universal. The parameters won't be set for, say someone of a certain age but of a leader who has the qualities that the cardinals deem adequate to meet the needs of the church at this time.


Garner, N.C.: Pope John Paul II, was, in my judgement, in terms of political issues, he was bold and upfront about social injustices. He helped lead the way in the fall of communism.

In terms of personal social issues, he maintained a strong position that sexual relations were a gift from God to be shared between a husband and a wife for the purpose of procreation. Any other form of sexual expression was viewed as wrong.

Is it likely that the next Pope will continue this strong position? (I hope so)

Msgr. Kevin McCoy: Yes. That is the Roman Catholic tradition. The grace of John Paul II was that he was an eloquent teacher and he found language to express that doctrine in manner that some had perhaps never heard it before. His developed theology of the body provided him with a platform in which to engage a modern society in the great respect and intimacy of this gift of sexuality to the spouse in that marital state. I think, in a way that many have listened to it in a new way but yet it is the Catholic tradition and so the new leader will speak this same tradition but perhaps he won't have the charisma of John Paul II.


Rosslyn, Va.: Thank you for taking questions Msgr. McCoy. As many of us are unable to go to Rome as this time, will we be able to visit Pope John Paul II's tomb in the future or is this off-limits to visitors?

Msgr. Kevin McCoy: At this point in time I don't know exactly where he will be buried but I imagine he will be buried in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica and if that is the case, his tomb will be able to be visited by the faithful.


Colorado Springs, Colo.: I saw an interesting piece on your college last night (was it on 60 Minutes? I can't remember) and was heartened to see so many young American men who had such strong beliefs in their faith and their church. How do you think the men of your seminary will affect both the church (short-term) and the papacy (long-term)?

Thanks for taking questions today

Msgr. Kevin McCoy: Where their impact will certainly first be felt is within the local parishes that they serve. This college has been in existence since 1859. At that time it's purpose as it is today is to train young men from North America to serve at home in dioceses all across the U.S. as faithful, zealous, holy priests who have grown in their love for the church and for the Roman pontiff. So these men, I think, will be fine ambassadors, fine evangelize, because they've been educated and formed here in Rome with the unique opportunity to experience the true universality of the Catholic Church.

So these men may sit in theological lectures at pontifical universities with men from Iraq or Brazil, Ireland. That's the universality. They know that as the return home the church is much larger than the local parish that they will serve and that the Gospel may call them to challenge people in their local churches to have a concern for the needs of the church at-large. And I think that makes a difference.


Detroit, Mich.: How much influence will Joseph Ratzinger have in the selection of the next pope? Many of us see him as having had a negative impact on conveying the positive messages of the Catholic Church.

Msgr. Kevin McCoy: Cardinal Ratzinger will have his vote in the Conclave and his role under John Paul II was to insure the authentic handing-on of the teachings of the faith. So his office with his many collaborators there ... if there's a theologian who is giving formulation to the doctrine of the faith that does not really conform faithfully to what truly is the teaching, then it is their job to confront this so as to avoid error or confusion among the faithful who might read that theologian.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think there is any hope that a new pope will let women to take on greater roles in the Church than are currently allowed?

Msgr. Kevin McCoy: If you mean women priests, the answer is no. I think that under the past pontificate that question was answered and the church's tradition speaks strongly to the support of that answer.


Msgr. Kevin McCoy: I appreciate the opportunity to be online with you today. It is a new experience for me. The immediacy of the communication shrinks the world. When I was here as a student in 1977, we had to reserve telephone minutes to be able to call to the U.S. and today I'm in immediate contact with anyone via e-mail. This experience has certainly shrunk the world and my only fear is that sometimes we might not reflect enough. We need to spend more time considering the questions. The weaknesses of this methodology, I feel, is the inability to respond humanly to the personal need. The keyboard really can't express the human presence. As a priest, I know the one who I try to make real in the world today, namely Jesus Christ, dealt in that human intimacy, that one-on-one conversation that communicated the care, the concern for those who are in need.

I would hope that those of you who didn't have a question answered today might approach your local priest to further seek an answer to your inquiry.


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