Pope EmeritusMarch 01, 2013
As of yesterday there is no pope leading the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI stepped down to become "Pope Emeritus" (which is a pretty cool emeritus title to have). The first pope in six hundred years to step down, he might have started a new model in an institution that does not historically change very quickly. Although some people suggested Pope John Paul II should resign due to health problems from Parkinson's, he refused. Benedict now sets a very different precedent and it will be interesting to see if other popes follow his course to become "Pope Emeritus." Later this month, cardinals from around the world will gather in the secret conclave to discuss and vote on a new pope--with each vote followed by black or white smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel. This conclave will bring a critical decision for the Catholic Church's leaders as they face numerous issues, including sexual abuses scandals, theological debates, lingering Vatican II reforms, and pressure to select a pope from the southern hemisphere. The National Communication Association touted me as one of their experts for this news issue since I write about religious rhetoric and media coverage of religion (in particular, I co-authored a chapter on media coverage of Pope John Paul II's death in the book The Rhetoric of Pope John Paul II). There will be a lot of interesting items to watch over the next few weeks during this transition.