By the prophecies of Irish St. Malachy the next pope will be last, will be known as Peter of Rome and a great Armageddon will happen on his watch.
Then Malachy’s prophesies have been dismissed as a con game invented by an impostor centuries after he died.
But there is no question that the next pope, whoever he is, will confront a sea of troubles that have also bedeviled the current incumbent.
Benedict had hardly assumed the throne when the pedophile scandals washed across the Catholic world. They had been there before he took over but they reached their height during his reign.
Nowhere was that more evident than in Ireland, where sickening reports revealed a clergy run amok and a cover-up worthy of hardened criminals, not archbishops.
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny made a remarkable speech last year pointing the finger of blame at the Vatican, ensuring that its relationship with Ireland, once so solid as to be almost indivisible, was fractured.
Trying to repair that chasm has been a very difficult job. The new Papal Nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, has gone some way to doing that, but the new pope will find Ireland listed among his problem arenas when he takes office.
The best popes are those with a human aspect who care for people, not pontifications. John XXIII was one example, as was Pope John Paul II.
The Catholic Church has not had that human touch at the top since John Paul first fell ill. Benedict was a scholar and by all accounts a brilliant man, but his church foundered and lost ground under his reign.
That is true of all churches, incidentally, as a crisis in faith grips many countries where church dignitaries are too often found to have feet of clay.
The next pope will have a very difficult task. It is easy to see why Benedict, at 85 and in failing health, felt he could not go on.
He is to be admired for taking that drastic step and stepping aside for a younger man. It is not a job for the faint-hearted or the old in spirit, and he recognized that.
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