Go slower, not faster when choosing the next pope, urges a Catholic theologian and author in Winnipeg next week to speak about the authority of the Catholic Church.
"The church doesn't have to rush into it," says Gerard Mannion of last week's decision to allow cardinals to move up their conclave date to vote for a new pope.
"There's no compelling reason to have a pope by Easter."
Pope Benedict XVI officially retired as the pope Feb. 28, taking on the title of emeritus pope. Traditionally, the cardinals have a waiting period of 15 days after the position becomes vacant before gathering to choose a new pope. Last week, Benedict said the cardinals could set an earlier date, as long as all the cardinals were present.
Mannion will deliver the Hanley Memorial lectures at St. Paul's College at the University of Manitoba, beginning 7 p.m. Sunday, March 3 and continuing with two lectures on Monday, March 4 at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
His topic, chosen long before Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb. 11, deals with the notion of Catholic teaching authority and what sort of pope the church needs for the 21st century.
Because of the unique circumstances around Benedict's resignation, the first pope in 600 years to resign from office, Mannion says cardinals should take the time to consult broadly and widely throughout the church before entering the conclave for the secret election.
"Maybe the church needs to listen to different corners of the church. Because of modern communication, this is the first time that cardinals can take soundings from people around the world," says Mannion, in a telephone interview from his office at the University of San Diego.
"Speak to the poor people, the people in the parishes, the brothers and sisters, the people working in the charities and the missions, ask them what style of shepherd the church needs in the 21st century, ask them what style of leadership it needs."
Under the leadership of Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Mannion says the Catholic Church has adopted a top-down approach, markedly different from how the church was governed for most of its history. He says that model of centralized authority doesn't serve the church well or acknowledge the diversity of traditions and experiences within Catholicism.
"There's an absence of dialogue and an absence of justice, yet at the same time there are many things happening that are a real source of scandal," says the Irish-born Mannion, referring to sexual and financial abuse in the church, which again made headlines last week with the resignation of two cardinals.
Mannion says the church needs to invoke the spirit of openness and change that permeated the Second Vatican Council, convened in 1962 by Pope John XXIII. One of the results was a revision of the liturgy, allowing Catholics to worship in their own language instead of in Latin.
That spirit of change would be welcomed by Sister Mary Coswin, who would like to see the church address issues such as the ordination of women, homosexuality and clerical celibacy.
"My dearest hope is we would go back to the energy and spirit of Vatican II and the pope would help us recapture that," says Coswin, director of St. Benedict's Retreat and Conference Centre.
"It was openness to the times, openness to other churches and other religions."
However they proceed, the new pope should have the heart of a pastor, yet someone who understands the challenges of the church in the present time, suggests Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
"He would have been a pastor, a parish priest, yet a good theologian, one who understands theology in this day and age," says Huculak, also archbishop of the Archeparchy of Winnipeg.
Those qualifications are echoed by Archbishop James Weisgerber, who recognizes the contradictions of a totally human, yet totally spiritual process in electing a pope.
"I have a conviction that this (election) is entirely in the hands of the Holy Spirit and entirely in the hands of the 115 men who have to use their minds and experience," says Weisgerber, archbishop of Winnipeg.
Mannion is also placing his faith in those 115 men, the cardinals who will discuss and then vote within the confines and restrictions of the papal conclave, whenever it is scheduled.
"Many of those cardinal electors have affected a conservative style, but I'm convinced many of them have been pragmatic conservatives. They've trotted out the party line because that's what Rome said they should do," says Mannion, 42, who moves to Washington, D.C., in August to take up a position at Georgetown University.
"I think in the privacy of the election in the Sistine Chapel, I think a significant number of the cardinals will see the church needs something different from the papacy of Benedict XVI."