My Take: Benedict's 'master plan'
Pope Benedict XVI addresses faithful for the last time upon arrival in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, on February 28.
March 12th, 2013
08:04 AM ET

My Take: Benedict's 'master plan'

Editor's note: Sebastian Gomes, a producer at Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada, was an accredited observer to the Vatican Synod of Bishops in October. He is acting as an assistant to the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a spokesman for the Holy See during the papal transition.

By Sebastian Gomes, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by resigning last month, but before leaving the throne of St. Peter vacant, he seems to have spent months, if not years, charting a course for the future of the Catholic Church.

In hindsight we see how calculated Benedict’s thinking was, and not only about his resignation.

He called an unexpected consistory to be held on November 24 in which he created six new cardinals, none of them coming from Europe.

That came nine months after the previous consistory, meaning that in the last year of his papacy, Benedict appointed 24 of the 115 men who will elect his successor.

But he did more than just create new cardinals - he provided one final opportunity for them to come together and discuss the future of the church. A month earlier, the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith was convened in Rome.

A synod brings a sampling of the world’s bishops together to discuss a particular theme, in this case evangelizing those who have drifted away from the Catholic faith, especially in the Western world. 
This synod - the last under Benedict - took a long and in-depth look at how the church can effectively present the person of Jesus to the contemporary world.

It ran from October 7 to 28 inside the Synod Hall at the Vatican, where the cardinals held their pre-conclave meetings. The participants included 262 bishops, 56 cardinals, 91 experts and delegates (30 of whom were women - the most ever at a synod).

If we presume that Benedict had a "master plan," we can be sure that this synod was part of it.

What I have discovered in these days before the conclave is that many of the issues being raised here are the same issues that were raised at the synod. In other words, if you want to know what the cardinals are discussing in the general congregations, look at what they discussed in October.

Like the general congregations, the synod sessions are always closed to the public and the media for practical reasons: Bishops speak openly about political and religious persecution in parts of the world, for example.

But for the first time in history the Vatican allowed two young Catholic journalists inside to help tell the story. I was one of those journalists.

I remember the first week of the synod when voices of bishops from around the Western world were raised: “Europe needs to be evangelized!” Then came the critical analysis of the ever-growing secularism in the West, and the corresponding lament for “the good ‘ol days” when Catholics went to Mass on Sundays and didn’t question the hierarchy.

But soon the conversation shifted, and we began to hear a different, more modest tone. What happened, I think, was that the bishops began to reflect on their own words and actions, and to ask how they - the hierarchy of the church - have contributed to the crisis of faith in the West. They began to speak about humility.

There were very human moments at the synod when this shift manifested itself. For example, the synods still carry with them the structures and legalisms of old, and the formal introductions and speeches are done in Latin. Some of us laughed when the moderator gave the floor to one cardinal saying, “Eminentissime, Eccellentissime, Reverendissimum, Domine …,” which means, “Most Eminent, Most Excellent, Most Reverend, Lord Bishop ...,” and the cardinal gently replied, “Thank you, today I would like to speak about humility.”

Most people when they think about the church do not think about humility. The more common perception is that the church is monarchical, condescending, judgmental and controlling. But it was clear to me after about one week inside the Synod Hall that humility was the new starting point for talking about the future of the church.

I remember one morning I saw a bishop wearing the simple dress of his religious community instead of the bishop’s cassock required for formal gatherings. I said jokingly, “Bishop, you’re finally wearing comfortable clothes!” He replied, “Yes! Usually the Vatican makes you give up your identity when you come to Rome.”

There were many human moments like this when the humility and simplicity of these men became apparent. And to some degree, I think it was infectious. Soon the essential question for the synod was not “what is happening out there,” but rather “what is happening in here?” “How have we, the bishops, hurt the credibility of the message?” “What is the face that we, the church, show to the world?”

While I do not think Benedict could have predicted this development, I think he understood the importance of these men spending time together only a few months before his resignation.

People who have participated in a synod will always tell you that it’s more about the experience than the result. What we would call the critical issues in the church today: secularism, consumerism, indifference, persecution, Islam, governance, catechesis, and parish and family life were discussed, but always in this atmosphere of self-reflective humility. It was a shift, albeit unexpected, that suggests a longing for a new approach going forward.

Assuming Benedict called the synod with his resignation in mind, it is likely that he ensured the strongest candidates to replace him were present. And so whoever becomes pope, there is a good chance he influenced the synod and the church hierarchy’s current thinking about itself and the world. Perhaps more importantly, the experience of the synod influenced him, too.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity • Pope Benedict XVI

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. nowitspringsforth

    Reblogged this on now it springs forth.

    March 13, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  2. Belen

    If this is true which I think it is, the Emeritus Pope is a very wise man. A borrowed wisdom that only comes from God.

    March 13, 2013 at 8:24 am |
  3. the AnViL™

    looks like emperor palpatine to me.


    March 13, 2013 at 7:39 am |
  4. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    I have seen the humility of these strange celibate men – newly created archbishops prostrating themselves before the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter's. Even prostrate they were incredibly splendid to see, and attended by young priests who hovered around to make sure their clothing was arrayed perfectly. One of those young priests, Zoghby, was an acquaintance. He absolutely did not see the irony in it.

    March 12, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • clarity

      Roman Catholic Church Sex Abuse Cases

      March 12, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  5. End Religion

    Man does this photo look like you're being stalked by a zombie or what?

    March 12, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • Akira

      #1. Cardio

      March 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • End Religion


      March 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Akira

      #2. Double tap. Very important for keeping one's brains.

      March 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
    • End Religion

      i have to say I too never cared for those pink coconut balls, so I understand where Woody was coming from....

      March 12, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
    • Akira

      Lol! I never have, either, and I understood his stance perfectly...

      March 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
    • Picture

      The last of the Master Race. You can see he is dying to do one last Seig Heil.

      March 13, 2013 at 6:25 am |
  6. Akira

    Another photo of a person singing "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina". That song must be very popular; so many photographs are taken of people singing it.

    March 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  7. EX catholic

    Master plan or not still WEIRDOS!

    March 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    March 12, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      March 12, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Really?

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      That's why the data, has shown that atheists have happier and healthier lives than conservative Christians. Your post is built on a lie!

      March 12, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  9. bostontola

    If his master plan was to bring humility to the RCC, then that would be a huge positive step. If that really was his plan, he should have stayed (and got help). Who knows what will be the priorities of the next pope, even if he stacked the deck.

    March 12, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  10. clarity

    Isn't that picture a scene from Star Wars?? The only thing they forgot was the bolts of electricity coming out of his (Darth Sidious') hands (like when he's trying to kill Luke Skywalker).

    March 12, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  11. Akira

    "Benedict's Master Plan"?
    To take over the world! Bwa ha ha ha ha!

    March 12, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  12. Name is Nii

    These sad atheists. They love only their own selves. I love them as myself. Hope they learn so that they experience joy!

    March 12, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • meifumado

      How do you know what atheists love?

      You don't, so shut up.

      March 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • sam stone

      I love people other than myself, Name is Nii.

      I do not love those I have never met.

      I don't know how anyone can.

      Seems a wee bit delusional to me.

      Take your meds, please

      March 12, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • Hubert


      I see you express love with patronizing passive aggressive comments. Tell me, have you ever been in a long term romantic relationship?

      p.s. Online relationships don't count.

      March 12, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Atheist, me?

      If you are angry at being called a sad atheist then u r. If you are a happy atheist just move on! I love you as myself. Oh if you love your partner as yourself the relationship never ends. I've been with my current GF for two years n counting!

      March 13, 2013 at 5:56 am |
    • Atheist, me?

      If u say you love only those you can see then what about those you only read about. I am sure you know that anyone you come into contact with IS your neighbor online, on phone, via mail etc and you can love them as yourself and be a happy atheist!

      March 13, 2013 at 6:04 am |
    • Saraswati

      I think we're talking about some very different uses of the word "love" that are confusing this conversation. We use love today for romantic relationships or family members and maybe the occassional "I love you man". It's rarely used either for self or strangers which makes the whole saying a bit funny in modern English.

      Unless you're emersed in Christian language the term used is normally "care for" or "have empathy for" and people do feel this for strangers, which is why charities use all those heart tugging ads with crying babies and sad puppies. The research I've seen lately indicates that empathy actually is exactly a merging between the sense of self and others so this is a good description of an empathetic person though I'm not sure how well it can be dictated by this kind of command. It's a pretty core biological process that can be nurtured in childhood, but by adulthood I think you really mostly have to have the mechanisms in place...at least the basic capacities (your own emotional centers and linked mirror neurons).

      You're going to feel empathy for people you're exposed to, regardless of religion in your life, if you have these mechanisms in place. If you volunteer with the poor or suffering, travel and read you'll feel empathy (unless you have a serious disprder) and be more likely to care and want to help. If you stay with your own people and never listen you won't. I've seen religious and non-religious folk in both groups.

      March 13, 2013 at 6:31 am |
    • Atheist, me?

      The words I love you as myself are not a Christian term. Charitable love is not empathy. Just as in romance you say "I love you" when you have Charitable love for someone you say "I love you as myself". It is English.

      March 13, 2013 at 7:41 am |
  13. Alias

    If you were to take a cynical view on this article, you may think he was trying to make the former pope sound like a Nazi.

    March 12, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  14. clarity

    March 12, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • clarity

      Roman Catholic Church Sex Abuse Cases


      Not good

      March 12, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  15. Plan

    Master plan? How about master bait instead of mollest.

    March 12, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • meifumado

      Crap here come the Sith.

      March 12, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  16. STFU

    leave Benedict alone; he is YESTERDAY.

    March 12, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  17. theKINGsent1

    RELIGION...A poison passed on from one generation to another as all fell down...
    ...Knock..Knock...Who is there?...Sam....Sam who?....You have to let me in!...But I do not know you Sam...Yes you do, on earth I ate your flesh!...Better find another's house Sam because I sure as heck am not letting you into mine!...OR...
    ...Knock..Knock!!...Who is there?...Sue...Sue who?....You have to let me in!...But I do not know you Sue...Yes you do, on earth I knelled to the instrument they killed you on!...Better find another's house because you are not coming into my house!..
    ...Why go to x+y=z and be blind to the simplicity of it all?

    March 12, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • bob


      March 12, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  18. clarity

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Roman Catholic Church Sex Abuse Cases

    Not good

    March 12, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  19. Reality

    Lyrics the resonate for all-time:

    "The Two Universal Sects

    They all err—Moslems, Jews,
    Christians, and Zoroastrians:

    Humanity follows two world-wide sects:
    One, man intelligent without religion,
    The second, religious without intellect. "

    , born AD 973 /, died AD 1058 / .

    Al-Ma’arri was a blind Arab philosopher, poet and writer.[1][2] He was a controversial rationalist of his time, attacking the dogmas of religion and rejecting the claim that Islam possessed any monopoly on truth."

    Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/resalat-al-ghufran#ixzz1lI6DuZmZ and http://www.humanistictexts.org/al_ma'arri.htm

    Death's Debt is Paid in

    Death's debt is then and there

    Paid down by dying men;

    But it is a promise bare

    That they shall rise again. "


    March 12, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • Reality

      Oops, make that "Lyrics that resonate for all-time."

      March 12, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  20. Over 40,000 denominations of insanity

    Some believe that celibacy is appropriate for certain people, or for certain positions. It's ridiculous. Celibacy is unnatural and will continue to cause problems for the religious institutions that employ it.

    Many of the people from these same institutions advocate against abortion, but don't understand the realistic benefit of the morning after pill or even basic contraception; their unrealistic wishful thinking is causing the death of many at the hands of disease. Realistically, many abortions could be avoided if a morning-after pill were not viewed as such an evil option. Many of these same people bring children into the world at a high pace, and then would prefer that the rest of society take over and educate their children in their particular brand of religion when they don't plan well.

    In the U.S. recently we learned of the head of LCMS chastising a minister of that church for participating in a joint service for the victims of the Newtown school shooting.

    One sect calls homosexuality an abomination while the next one in the same denomination is already performing gay marriage.

    One sect, the Westboro Baptist Church believes Americans are being killed at war because America is too kind to "fags".

    One sect believes that Jesus and Satan were brothers and that Christ will return to Jerusalem AND Jackson County, Missouri.

    One sect believes women to be subservient, while another sect in the same denomination promotes equality between the sexes.

    Conflicted right from the very beginning, Christianity continues to splinter and create divisions and more extremism as it goes.

    Has anything improved with Christianity since 200+ years ago?

    Thomas Jefferson, POTUS #3 (from Notes on the State of Virginia):

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    James Madison, POTUS #4, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & the Bill of Rights (from A Memorial and Remonstrance delivered to the Virginia General Assembly in 1785):

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    John Adams, POTUS #2 (in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, 09/03/1816):

    I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.

    Ben Franklin (from a letter to The London Packet, 3 June 1772):

    If we look back into history for the character of present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practised it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England, blamed persecution in the Roman church, but practised it against the Puritans: these found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England.

    Thomas Paine (from The Age of Reason):

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    March 12, 2013 at 8:15 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.