United Press International
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April 21, 2005
Analysis: Funds, priests to be Vatican priorities
VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican under newly installed Pope Benedict XVI will face many problems and issues left unaddressed as Pope
John Paul II's health worsened in recent years, with many close to the Holy See listing fiscal difficulties, the decline in vocations and the
health of the U.S.-led church as the most important areas requiring attention.
Vatican insiders and commentators who spoke to United Press International in the days since former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was
elected pope said the church would have to aggressively confront these issues over the coming months and years.
The new pontiff Thursday seemed, however, to send the opposite message, indicating he had asked Cardinal Angelo Sodano to stay on
as the Vatican's secretary of state, a post he has held for 14 years. The move was interpreted to mean Vatican political policy, at least,
was likely to remain similar to those in force during John Paul II's reign.
Benedict also reappointed several lower-level administrators to their former posts, and indicated the rest of his appointments --
including replacements for powerful positions he held as a cardinal: dean of the College of Cardinals and the head of the Congregation
of the Doctrine of the Faith -- would be revealed in the coming days.
Those close to the church say they hope once the new team is in place it will be able to effectively deal with the church's most dire
"There are a lot of leaks in the dam right now, and it's not getting better," church historian Alistair Sear told UPI. "Many issues were left to
linger in the past because of (John Paul's) health problems ... (and) now the problems are much larger."
Among the main issues mentioned in a series of interviews were the Vatican's weak finances, falling church attendance and vocations
by clergy, and the sex-abuse scandals that have damaged the image of the church in the United States.
The Vatican has run a budget deficit for three consecutive years due to a combination of factors, including the cost of the extensive
diplomatic network put in place by John Paul II, the slide of the dollar that has lessened the value of donations from U.S. churches and
falling church attendance in the United States and elsewhere.
Marco d'Abruzzo, a former business writer who has written about the Vatican's finances, said the issue will require immediate attention.
"The church cannot run at a deficit in the long term," d'Abruzzo told UPI. "Improving in other areas will help church attendance and the
enthusiasm of church-goers and that will help the issue to an extent, but there is no doubt that we will soon see a round of
belt-tightening at the Holy See."
Benedict XVI has already said he wants to increase the number of vocations, now less than 60 percent of their all time high in 1967, and
reinvigorate the church in the developed world, where its health is most in question. Those who spoke to UPI said the best way to do that
will be by confronting the growing secularism in Europe and North America.
"In many parts of the world, things like business have become more important than faith," Sear said. "Many people and nations no
longer look to religion for their moral guidance as they once did."
The sex abuse scandals in the United States and elsewhere have contributed to the decline in church attendance in North America.
Several observers mentioned action to confront the issue as key.
"Something must be done to restore the faith of those who see the church only in the light of these scandals," said one U.S. priest
working in the Vatican, speaking to UPI on the condition of anonymity. "It is hurting people's faith, and it is also hurting finances from the
United States," which is the Vatican's top source for funds.
Other issues the church will have to address include church governance. During his 26-year reign, John Paul II centralized much of the
church's decision-making at the Holy See. But Bishops have called for more of the church's decision making to be returned to them.
Additionally, the role of women in the church is sure to be a hot topic. As a cardinal, Benedict has spoken out against an increased role
for women, but many believe the growing shortage of priests may eventually force the church to open the door to female clergy.
In the days since becoming the 264th successor to St. Peter, Benedict has spoken about the need to increase the dialogue between
Rome and other faiths, a touchy subject for the man who once said the Catholic Church was "God's only true church." John Paul II made
major strides in improving relations with some protestant faiths, Jews and Muslims. Benedict will have to continue where his
predecessor was successful and succeed where he failed, most notably in regard to relations with Eastern Orthodox religions and the
most liberal protestant faiths.
The church is growing fastest in some of the poorest and least-democratic parts of the world, making poverty reduction and human
rights key issues.
Biotechnology is another important issue, encompassing a range of increasingly important topics ranging from stem-cell research to
the spread of genetically modified crops.
But the most important and difficult issue of all, according to many, may be the legacy of John Paul II, who died April 2.
"John Paul II cast an enormous shadow," said Sear, the historian. "Benedict will have to emerge from that shadow in his own way or
accomplishing other goals will be almost impossible."
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