As Pope Benedict XVI enters the final day of his papacy, members of Waterville’s religious community are thinking about who his successor will be.
In Waterville, Larissa Taylor, a Catholic scholar and Colby College professor, said she feels the weight of the papacy weighed heavily on Benedict and that he might have been considering retirement for years before his surprise announcement in January.
As evidence, she pointed to a rare gesture from Benedict in 2009, during a visit to Aquila, Italy, at the tomb of Celestine V, who served as pope from 1294 to 1296. At that time, Benedict left the woolen pallium that he wore during his own inauguration as pope, a gesture she said has added significance given that Celestine V is best known for taking the highly unusual step of retiring.
“That part tells me that he’s probably been thinking about the idea of retirement for a while,” Taylor said.
Taylor said that with no obvious front-runner among the cardinals who could be named a successor, “I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen.”
Benedict made a change to the succession process, so that instead of a simple majority, a two-thirds vote will be required to elect a new pope.
The change, coupled with recent reports of infighting among Vatican insiders, could lead to the appointment of a candidate from outside Italy, she said.
The pool of likely candidates includes many non-European cardinals, including Marc Oullet, of Canada; Luis Antonio Tagle, of the Philippines; Peter Turkson, of Ghana; and John O’Malley, of Boston.
Taylor described O’Malley, whom she has met, as “very affable, very Irish” and having “a good sense of humor.”
Whoever the successor is, Taylor said, will have been screened through a set of qualifications that include political palatability.
“Everyone would say no, but politics most assuredly is a part of it,” she said.
The lifelong term of a pope makes it similar to that of a Supreme Court justice, she said, in that predicting their future positions can be difficult.
“Some of the most liberal judges have been chosen by the most conservative presidents and vice versa,” she said.
The Rev. Joseph Daniels, who leads Waterville’s Corpus Christi Parish, said he expects the successor will be chosen “over and above any consideration of where they come from,” based on qualities that transcend politics.
“The one who is to be chosen pope must be able to bring Christ to the people of the world in an engaging way,” he said, “and also be able to speak to all of humanity about the promise, hope, and joy that our faith offers.”
Daniels said that Masses at Corpus Christi have included prayers for Benedict “and for the election of his worthy successor.”
He said a Eucharistic adoration will take place Friday at St. John’s Church in Winslow, at which attendees will have an opportunity “to engage in silent prayer for the pope emeritus and his eventual successor.”
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287