On Feb. 21, USC Annenberg welcomed journalist Jason Berry for a lunchtime discussion on “The Catholic Church and the Media: Story at a Crossroads.”
Berry is an award-winning investigative reporter and author of several books about the Catholic Church. Copies of Berry’s book, “Render unto Rome: the Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church,” were available for signing after the discussion.
The event, hosted by journalism professor and Knight Chair Diane Winston, was sponsored by the Office of Religious Life, the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies.
Berry’s visit came on the heels of the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would resign at the end of the month. His surprising resignation was a primary topic in the discussion. When asked about why the Pope stepped down, Berry offered several explanations.
“Pope Benedict was noticeably drawn. He looked tired,” Berry said. “This was a man who certainly had the appearance of some weight upon him.”
In addition to physical weakness, Berry noted that the Pope may have been struggling in his position.
“I think the sense that he could not control his own circle of his advisers weighed heavily against him,” said Berry, also pointing out that Pope Benedict XVI had “a much more retiring personality. [He was] very shy.”
In regards to whom the Conclave would elect as the next Pope, Berry’s predictions were based on his extensive knowledge of the Church and cardinals.
“My guess is that the Italian cardinals will push very hard to get one of their members through the Conclave and elected,” said Berry.
Berry said it is possible that the next Pope could come out of a third-world country, but noted that there is a question of whether “he (will) evolve in the office with the political agility that you need.”
There has also been a lot of speculation recently that the new Pope could be an American. However, when asked by the audience, Berry said that “it is utterly impossible that an American will be elected.”
In the coming weeks, Barry said he expects and hopes that the frontrunners for the papacy will make all kinds of public appearances, press conferences and sermons.
“It will give us a sense of the personalities of these men,” Berry said.
Because the Pope resigned rather than died, Berry said that media coverage of the Conclave would differ from previous Conclaves in that we would see more “textured interviews.” The upcoming Conclave will be a “more populist event.”
He emphasized that one of the main roles of the Pope was that of a “global peacemaker.” He argued that the Conclave, as well as the Pope, himself, must have “confidence in the persona that is projected.”
He also expressed hope that the newly elected Pope would right the wrongs of his predecessors. According to him, it is inevitable that the Catholic Church will eventually adopt something bearing resemblance to a constitution in order to hold cardinals more accountable for their actions and avoid scandals like those that have plagued the Catholic Church in the past.
“A new pope, in a sense, arrives with a fresh slate,” he said.