Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement earlier this week was a radical break from Catholic Church tradition.
Another historic change in the papacy could be coming as soon as the election of a new pope, likely in March.
Previous popes all have hailed from Europe, but the list of Catholic cardinals currently considered contenders for the throne of St. Peter includes plenty of names from Africa, India, Latin America and Southeast Asia.
The next conclave could elect the first non-European pope, and Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is among a growing number of Catholics saying that the possibility is a positive development for the church.
“I think it would be wonderful,” Malone said Wednesday in response to a question about whether it is time for the church to have a non-European as pontiff.
“We’ve had a long, long, long time of a Eurocentric lens for the church. It’s not a bad thing, but the world of the church is a lot bigger than Europe,” he said.
Malone met with the Editorial Board of The Buffalo News for about an hour in a wide-ranging discussion that touched on Benedict’s stunning decision to resign Feb. 28 and the upcoming conclave of cardinals from around the world to elect his successor.
“The church in the global south is growing by leaps and bounds. Africa, some of South America – it’s unbelievable how robust the church is in those areas, numerically very, very strong. And so to have a leader, a universal pastor, which the pope is, that comes from that world, I think would be very good for the church,” Malone said. “I think it would be refreshing.”
It was Malone’s first meeting with The News Editorial Board since his installation as bishop in August.
Malone also addressed his ongoing dual roles as Buffalo bishop and as the temporary administrator of the Diocese of Maine while the Vatican sorts out who will succeed him as bishop in that diocese.
The arrangement has forced Malone to rely on teleconferencing, emails, texts and once-a-month flights to Portland in order to administer both dioceses.
“It works,” he said. “But a bishop is best for his people when he’s got his boots on the ground, and by that I mean two things: the Catholics in Maine need a guy with [his] boots on the ground there, and I want to be full time with my boots on the ground here. I just want to be free to put my roots down deep in Western New York.
“So everyday I pray for my successor in Maine, even though I have no clue who it might be.”
Monsignor David G. LiPuma, vice chancellor and secretary to the bishop, said that the arrangement hasn’t inhibited Malone’s work here.
“It hasn’t slowed down anything going on in Buffalo. We’ve been all over the diocese since the day the bishop arrived,” LiPuma said.
Malone presided at Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Joseph’s Cathedral during the afternoon, distributing ashes for the first time in Buffalo.
Some Episcopal priests earlier in the day took to the streets and parking lots of Western New York to distribute ashes to commuters on the way to and from work.
Malone described that effort as a “creative way of trying to reach out to people who may not come to church today for ashes.”
It would not be problematic for Catholics to receive ashes in such a manner, he said.
But Malone, who oversees more than 600,000 Catholics in the eight-county diocese, didn’t recommend it, either.
“I’d be reluctant to give up the opportunity for people to come together in church, to pray and to sing, to be together with brothers and sisters and to be able to come up and receive the ashes that way,” he said.
“I prefer to have them come to a Catholic church, because we usually have Mass as a part of it, and it’s much more important to receive Holy Communion than to receive ashes, that’s for sure.”