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Bishop Conlon says pope’s job more physically challenging in modern era

Bishop R. Daniel Conl(Diocese Joliet) talks about resignatiPope Benedict Catholic Chancery Joliet Illinois Tuesday February 12 2013. | Joseph P.

Bishop R. Daniel Conlon (Diocese of Joliet) talks about the resignation of Pope Benedict at the Catholic Chancery in Joliet, Illinois, Tuesday, February 12, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 14, 2013 6:27AM



Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign is a reflection of a job that forces popes to be more visible and more active than in past centuries, but Catholics should not expect it to be a trend, Joliet Bishop R. Daniel Conlon said Tuesday.

Conlon in a sit-down interview about Pope Benedict’s resignation discussed the changing nature of the pope’s job and the challenges that the next pope will face.

He also said Catholics should pray that the Holy Spirit guides the cardinals in the selection of the next pope, rather than focus on who they think would best fit the profile.

“I pray that people will be open to the decision that is made,” he said. “I find a lot of comments that are being made are what people want in the next pope rather than being humble before the choice of the Holy Spirit.”

Conlon, a diocesan bishop but not a cardinal, will not have a role in the selection of the pope.

Met Benedict twice

He has met Pope Benedict twice but said he was as surprised as anyone to learn that the pope was resigning.

But, he said, the fact that Pope Benedict is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years is a reflection of the times, when the physical demands of the job become increasingly greater at the same time that popes live longer.

“If you go back 50 years ago, the pope could be ill and live in the confines of the Apostolic Palace,” Conlon said. “People would guess that he is ill. But no one would see him.”

Conlon said modern medicine allows popes to live much longer today while the physical demands of the job have become greater.

“It’s a much more public office than it used to be,” he said. “The pope is expected to be very visible. Plus, the pope travels a lot more.”

Interestingly, the church some years ago began requiring that bishops and pastors submit their resignations at the age of 75, although some stay in their posts longer than that. Conlon said he believes that requirement was put in place at least in part because of the recognition of the increased visibility required of those jobs.

But, he cautioned, no one should begin expecting future popes to resign at a certain age.

“I think that future popes will have to discern that in their prayer,” Conlon said. “I don’t think we as members of the church should expect any pope to resign or retire.”

Conlon, who met Pope Benedict once briefly and again when he was with a group of bishops, described him as a humble and practical man. Those qualities may have played a part in the pope’s decision to resign, he said.

Next pope’s challenge

One of the biggest challenges facing Pope Benedict’s successor, Conlon said, will be maintaining unity in the Roman Catholic Church in an increasingly secularized world.

“There will be increasing temptation for people to dissent from the teachings of the church and, as a result, disassociate from the church,” he said. “A second challenge will be the increasing secularization in the developed countries and in the developing countries.

“Now secularization is a predominant force in our culture. Religion is being pushed more and more to the periphery. That makes it difficult for any religious leader.”

As to who that next religious leader should be for the Roman Catholic Church, Conlon said having “the right pope” is more important than the pope’s age, race or country of origin. As to how to get that right pope, Conlon said, he and other Catholics can help the cardinals by praying.

“I think the biggest prayer is for the cardinals to be open to be moved by the Holy Spirit,” he said.



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