RIO DE JANEIRO – The Catholic Church needs a younger, more modern and open-minded pope who can halt the exodus of the faithful in Latin America, home to half of the world’s Catholics, Brazilians say.
Brazil has the world’s largest Roman Catholic population — at 125 million faithful — but the country’s leftist tilt has left many feeling alienated from a church seen as overly wealthy and detached from modern life.
Catholics’ numerical dominance in Brazil has been steadily eroding as Evangelicals have made major inroads, jumping from 26.2 million in 2000 to 42.3 million in 2010, out of a population of nearly 200 million.
Brazil’s Catholics now fear that their country, and Latin America in general, will face the same dearth of clergy as Europe, where seminaries training future priests are half empty.
They wonder who will be tasked with leading the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, many of whom were appalled by recent pedophile and corruption scandals and shocked by the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
“It does not matter whether the next pope is Brazilian (or) Filipino, although it will be difficult to get a non-European,” said Franciscan friar and writer Frei Betto, a friend of Cuba’s famed communist revolutionary Fidel Castro and Brazil’s leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
“I want a man open to dialogue with the modern world, to inter-religious dialogue,” he said.
“The Catholic Church maintains medieval practices. It did not enter modernity and is not comfortable with the digital world,” he added.
Betto says the next pope must lift the taboos on issues such as priestly celibacy, the ordination of female priests, gay marriage, the use of condoms and abortion in specific cases.
French Dominican friar Henri Burin des Roziers, who lives in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon and is facing death threats over his defense of landless peasants, meanwhile called for “an end to the great theater of luxury, of the scandals linked to the (pope’s) external wealth.”
He wants the new pontiff “to stop living like a prince, to opt for a simple life.”
“The important thing is that he must be a man of dialogue with the outside world and within the church,” he told AFP.
“We hope that the new pope will create a more open atmosphere, that Christians will be able to have a dialogue with modern culture without the many suspicions and criticisms facing the current pope,” said Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff.
Boff is a leading figure in the progressive Liberation Theology. He quit the priesthood in 1992, eight years after being effectively gagged by none other than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became pope Benedict XVI.
Paulo Fernando Carneiro de Andrade, a theology professor at the Rio de Janeiro Catholic University, wants a pope who promotes “decentralization and greater openness to cultural pluralism — less eurocentric.”
Sao Paulo archbishop Odilo Scherer, one of the world’s 118 cardinals who could succeed Benedict XVI, said the next pope’s geographical origin is not as important as his approach to “the challenge of postmodernity.”
Raymundo Damasceno Assis, who is president of the Brazilian Bishops Conference and also touted as a possible next pope, told AFP “the challenge for the future pontiff will be to make the gospel relevant for today’s world.”
And Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the emeritus archbishop of Sao Paulo, stressed the need for a pope younger than the 85-year-old Benedict XVI. Around 65 “would be a good age,” he said.