INDIANAPOLIS — According to USA Today, as of last year there were nearly 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. The resignation of their leader, Pope Benedict XVI, this past Monday sent shockwaves through the Catholic community, including locally.
Benedict became the first Holy Father to step down from his post in nearly 600 years, when Gregory XII left the position reluctantly. Benedict cited his “incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
At Mary Queen of Peace parish in Danville, shock and admiration for his decision were the narratives as Catholics around the world digested their suddenly changing leadership.
“We were surprised,” offered Father Bernie Cox, who was ordained into the priesthood in 1991 and has been at Mary Queen of Peace since 2005. “He didn’t even tell his immediate staff. We look at Pope John Paul II and toward the end, he couldn’t even speak, yet traditionally the Holy Father remains in office until he dies.”
Cox said it’s hard to tell whether or not this is something that down the road might become a trend, but says that Benedict’s approach was a very realistic one.
Anna Wray, an administrative assistant at Mary Queen of Peace, says she was very proud of Benedict’s decision.
“I think it was a sacrifice and a great act of humility to step aside for his flock and do what’s best,” she said. “He is a great man and I personally am happy that he will be alive when they vote in a new Pope.”
While the church has come under fire for stances on more progressive issues, Cox says that the institution will not compromise their beliefs to adhere to politics in choosing a new leader.
“Politics has nothing to do with the election of a Pope,” he said. “When the Cardinals are locked in the Sistine Chapel conclave, it’s first and foremost through prayer and the guides of the Holy Spirit who will be the next Holy Father. Politics of the world have nothing to do with church politics. You can’t campaign for Pope. If you go in thinking or wanting to be elected, you’re the one who will not be elected.
“Even a parish priest could be the one who would become the Pope, but it’s usually from among the College Cardinals themselves.”
He added more insight into what might be the thoughts of a new Holy Father as it relates to people’s changing ideals.
“The College of Cardinals doesn’t listen to the youth of America with what they want,” Cox said. “We feel first and foremost, it’s the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be who we are. Look even to our closest relatives to see what problems that could create. The Holy Father does try to look at all aspects of things, but the bottom line is, if they think something is a sin, they’re not going to change their mind on that.”
Cox noted there has never been an American Pope, which suggests the country’s highest ranking Catholic, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, will not be the man chosen for the position.
Still, in spite of the leadership shake-up, Cox says that locally, interest in converting to Catholicism is soaring and the faith remains strong with local youths.
“Our parish is young and viable and growing,” he said. “Our kids are very active and involved. I don’t see it weakening at all. I’ve been here eight years and it’s gained quite a few members.”
Cox said that when he sees people leave the faith, it’s often after high school and then as they age, they tend to come back. He said he is excited that Indianapolis will again be the host for the 2013 National Catholic Youth Conference later this year.
“Even I left the church for about nine years before I came back and ended up going to the seminary,” he said. “I think there are a number of people (who leave), particularly after high school, and then later on it truly becomes an adult decision to come back.”
“There are a lot of conversions,” adds Wray. “(Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) classes have increased every year. I think that people are very much aware of the moral decline going on and the Catholic Church stands strong and has been there for 2,000 years. It’s something to hang onto. We’re having whole families come in (to enter the faith) and not necessarily with any ties to Catholicism.”
Wray says that unlikely as it is, she would love to have an American Pope and thinks it would do wonders for further evangelism.
Cox said that 2013, a year of faith as decreed by Benedict, is an important time for local Catholics to rediscover their faith. And while the chances are next-to-nothing that he’d get the call, he said he’s rather sure of his feelings about succeeding Benedict.
“No, I do not want to be Pope,” he laughed.