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Loyola expert: Is pope selection transformative for the Catholic Church amid recent controversy?

Loyola press release - February 25, 2013

The announcement of Pope Benedict XVI resigning his post—the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years—sets in motion the traditional and sometimes arcane process of choosing a new pope. Pope Benedict will officially leave office Feb. 28 amid recent controversy, and the conclave to choose a new leader for the Church will start soon after, according to Tom Ryan, Ph.D., director of the Loyola University New Orleans Institute for Ministry. Ryan said this is an historic time for the Catholic Church, which has suffered controversy and is in a period of transition.

Ryan, whose academic background includes history of the Catholic Church, its theology, structures and hierarchy, is available for media interviews. Contact Mikel Pak in Loyola’s Office of Public Affairs for arrangements, mlpak@loyno.edu or 504-861-5448.

“The Church is growing in parts of the developing world, but it’s shrinking or staying constant in the developed world,” Ryan said. “The selection of the next pope is important; it could determine the course for the Church for decades. It would have implications here in New Orleans—it’s not something that is distant and of no consequence to us.”

Cardinals under age 80 are eligible for the conclave, which means some 117 cardinals worldwide will be voting for a new pope. That process will take place in Rome where the group could go through multiple ballots until one candidate receives a final two-thirds vote and is selected pope, according to Ryan. The whole process is guided by rules developed over centuries and by obscure traditions that address matters ranging from the posture a cardinal takes and the Latin words spoken as he votes to the meaning of the smoke color that emanates from the Vatican after each ballot. Black smoke signals a failed ballot, and white smoke signals a successful ballot.

He added that because the Catholic Church has grown so much recently in developing nations, cardinals will likely consider candidates from Africa, Latin America and Asia. There are also candidates from the U.S. and Canada with several likely candidates from Europe.

“The new pope will be chosen for his vision,” Ryan said. “Is the person elected going to be charismatic like Pope John Paul II, or more of a manager charged with getting the ship back on course? I would hope that the new pope will have both qualities."

Ryan received a Masters of Arts in Religion from the Yale University Divinity School and a doctorate in theology from the University of Notre Dame. He taught at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Fla., where he was chair of the religious studies department and taught in the university’s Institute for Pastoral Ministries. He became director of the Loyola Institute for Ministry in August 2007.