The world’s media speculated on whether the next pontiff may come from the developing world, while paying mixed tributes to Pope Benedict XVI following his shock resignation announcement.
The 85-year-old Benedict said on Monday that he would step down at the end of this month because of health reasons, becoming the first leader of the Catholic Church to resign of his own free will in 700 years.
Argentina’s largest selling newspaper, Clarin, ran a headline on its website asking whether the next pope might hail from the Americas, Asia or Africa rather than Europe, where all popes have come from through the centuries.
“After the virtually unprecedented decision by the head of the church to resign, there is a growing possibility that deeply established traditions and criteria might change in the next choosing of the pope and there could be a surprise,” the report said.
Clarin said this was not just a matter of geography but something that went much deeper.
Catholicism is in serious decline in Europe but growing robustly in Africa and Asia. And Latin America, despite fervent adherence to the faith being patchy, is home to 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, the paper noted.
In the Philippines, the Catholic Church’s stronghold in Asia, the pope’s decision dominated the front pages of newspapers, while major Internet news sites focused on whether Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle may succeed him.
“He has the rare chance, like 116 others, to choose the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. And who knows? He himself may become Pope Benedict XVI’s successor,” news portal Rappler wrote of Cardinal Tagle.
The pope’s resignation made the front pages of most British newspapers, which largely praised his personal qualities, but they also called for the next pope, whether he is from Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas, to bring about reform.
In an editorial, The Guardian said that Benedict’s papacy was “theologically, politically and organisationally a continuation of that of John Paul II, with all its defects and its virtues”.
It painted a sober picture of the future, saying that “not a single liberal candidate to succeed Benedict can be identified”.
The Times described Benedict’s resignation in an editorial as a “noble and selfless decision” but said his successor should try to make the Catholic church “a more collegial venture”.
The Independent newspaper focused on the future with the headline “Situation Vacant: New leader wanted for 1.2 billion Roman Catholics”.
It added that Benedict’s announcement “plunges his Church into turmoil”.
In France, daily Catholic newspaper La Croix praised Benedict for making a tough decision.
“This is a man of faith who has decided to resign with the consciousness of having given everything he could for the good of the Church,” the newspaper said.
Conservative French newspaper Le Figaro published a special edition in which it welcomed the “humility” of Benedict XVI, who “felt that the challenges of the contemporary church exceeded its powers”.
The pope’s resignation also made the front pages in Australia, with Rupert Murdoch’s national daily newspaper The Australian carrying a headline that said: “Pope Benedict surrenders: too old, too frail to lead a billion people”.
In an opinion piece, the newspaper’s foreign editor said Benedict was “a good man but a poor pope”.
“Benedict was always going to have a hard time following in the footsteps of John Paul II, the most charismatic, and perhaps the most influential, pope in the 20th century,” wrote Greg Sheridan.
“But he disappointed even his closest supporters.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]