The challenges facing the successor of Pope Benedict XVI come into sharper focus when we widen the historical lens through which we view this papal transition. Benedict XVI will be the last pope to have participated in the Second Vatican Council, the most important Catholic event since the 16th century. An ecclesiastical era is ending. What was its character, and to what future has Benedict XVI led Catholicism? writes George Weigel in Ethics and Public Policy Centre.
Vatican II, which met from 1962 to 1965, accelerated a process of deep reform in the Catholic Church that began in 1878 when the newly elected Pope Leo XIII made the historic decision to quietly bury the rejectionist stand his predecessors had adopted toward cultural and political modernity and to explore the possibilities of a critical Catholic engagement with the contemporary world.
That reform process, which was not without difficulties, reached a high point of ecclesiastical drama at Vatican II, which has now been given an authoritative interpretation by two men of genius, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both influential figures at the Council. According to that interpretation, the church must rediscover and embrace its vocation as a missionary enterprise.
Evangelical Catholicism -- or what John Paul II and Benedict XVI dubbed the "New Evangelization" -- is the new form of the Catholic Church being born today. The church is now being challenged to understand that it doesn't just have a mission, as if "mission" were one of a dozen things the church does. The churchisa mission.
At the centre of that mission is the proclamation of the Gospel and the offer of friendship with Jesus Christ. Everyone and everything in the church must be measured by mission-effectiveness. And at the forefront of that mission -- which now takes place in increasingly hostile cultural circumstances -- is the pope, who embodies the Catholic proposal to the world in a unique way.
So at this hinge moment, when the door is closing on the Counter-Reformation church in which every Catholic over 50 was raised, and as the door opens to the evangelical Catholicism of the future, what are the challenges facing the new pope?
Catholicism is dying in its historic heartland, Europe. The new pope must fan the frail flames of renewal that are present in European Catholicism. But he must also challenge Euro-Catholics to understand that only a robust, unapologetic proclamation of the Gospel can meet the challenge of a Christophobic public culture that increasingly regards biblical morality as irrational bigotry.
The new pope must be a vigorous defender of religious freedom throughout the world. Catholicism is under assault by the forces of jihadist Islam in a band of confrontation that runs across the globe from the west coast of Senegal to the eastern islands of Indonesia.
FULL STORY Catholics need a Pope for the New Evangelisation (EPPC)