'Pope John Paul II had extraordinary charisma and a world presence'

April 15, 2005

Theologist Paul D. Murray examines the challenges facing Pope John Paul II's successor

Paul D. Murray, a specialist in modern Roman Catholic theology at Durham University, refuses to predict who will be the next Pope. "The only prediction I would make is that he is likely to be considerably older than Karol Wojtyla was when he succeeded to the papacy."

But Dr Murray, who teaches a masters course in conceiving change in contemporary Catholicism, is clear about the challenges facing the new pontiff. A key issue, he said, would be to determine the level of collegiality within the Catholic Church: the balance between the local and the centre.

The legacy of John Paul II's papacy will be lasting. "He was a man of extraordinary charisma with a world-stage presence," said Dr Murray, who previously taught at St Cuthbert's Seminary, Ushaw College. "The core of his theology was the dignity of the person, from conception to grave."

John Paul II was one of the world'smost consistent advocates of human rights. He was also open to what Catholicism could learn from other Christian traditions. "On the other hand," said Dr Murray, "there was a need for a unified Church, with discipline, the logic being that the Church has a message that must be presented clearly rather than in a confused form."

The Pope's successor may be equally authoritarian, or more progressive, "opening up conversation in areas that desperately need attention", Dr Murray said. These include birth control, celibacy and the involvement of women in ministry.

Olga Wojtas

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