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What should Americans look for in the next pope?

I admire the courage and humility Pope Benedict shows in stepping down. But looking forward, like any good American, I want to know: how will this change affect us? I took a run at that question for the Guardian, and you can read my answer on their Comment Is Free site today. Short version:

The American church desperately needs some confirmation that the hierarchy "gets it": no more blaming the media for being out to get the church; no more suggesting that the abuse was a matter of too many gay men in the seminaries; no more promoting and protecting compromised leaders. A new pope could stand for accountability.He could remove those hierarchs most implicated in the sex abuse scandal. And he could develop new criteria for bishops, calling for men whose gifts and inclinations are more pastoral than political. The kind of bishops needed in the 21st-century church, especially in the rapidly changing church in America, will be dedicated to repairing divisions, not deepening them.

Read the whole thing here. What are you hoping for?

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Mollie, this is a strong piece. I agree with the need to shore up the credibility of the church's pastors. I would add to your prescription that the church needs to be credible for a reason, and that reason is to proclaim the Gospel. The church needs to present an alternative and compelling vision of what it means to be human, over against the exhausted and futile notions that prevail in the larger, ever-more-secular culture. For better or worse, that does require the church engage on divisive social issues. But I believe we agree that the church should pursue models for that engagement that are likely to be more attractive and persuasive to people who don't live in the "church bubble".

Yes, I'd go with a strong connection to reality. Faith has nothing to fear from reason and evidence, even if it does sometimes butt up against belief. That's just a challenge, not a threat. Reason and evidence are the way humans discover things about God's creation. The Church cant evangelize the modern world unless it absorbs the lessons it has to offer; it cant lead in a world its not willing to understand.

Jeanne Follman,As someone who has read "Fides et Ratio" multiple times, I concur with you that "Faith has nothing to fear from reason and evidence..." The question is who is it that refuses to look at the evidence -- the world or the Church? If the prevailing culture doesn't accept what science affirms about human life (that life begins at conception) how can it have ears to hear what the Church proclaims? If the Zeitgeist refuses to recognize the unique biological complimentarily of the male and female persons, why would it listen to the Church's position on this matter?

Jim,Those issues are divisive because of the way the Church has responded to them. Look at the difference in the way people view the Church on divorce and same-sex marriage. The Church's position on divorce is less popular than its position on same-sex marriage, but no one cares about it because the Church isn't campaigning to force everyone to live by its standards.

This WSJ editorial on 'what the next pope needs to do' has some curious synergies with what Mollie wrote. Somewhat surprising to me.

My dream Pope would do a Warren Buffett and give 90% of the Vatican's assets to the poor. This symbolic gesture would so inspire everyone else in the world, that we would all sell off all of our possessions and give to the poor and have our treasure in Heaven like Jesus says.

Maybe Pope Benedict will do this himself in the next two weeks.

Mollie --Fine comment. Thanks.

I am hoping for a Pope who will take the name John XXIV.

What to look for in the new pope? It is clear to everyone even non-Catholics, I think, that a pope needs be a holy man. Than goes without saying. it is always true. But in these particular times a pope especially needs 1) transparency, 2) accountability, 3) enough courage to look at unpleasant and/or threatening facts as they really are, including facts elating to morals, and 4) openness to new ideas in order to accomplish 1, 2, and 3. But a pope needs help with this. He needs an effective Curia. The present Curia, with its secretiveness, and lack of accountability and openness to what is new, has been at the crux of the problems of the two last popes. The new pope has to have the creativity to invent a new one, which undoubtedly requires the sacking of at least some of the people of the old one. Finally, he and his Curia have to listen to the lower clergy and the laity. Without doing that he cannot lead the Church.

"My dream Pope would do a Warren Buffett and give 90% of the Vaticans assets to the poor."Which shows Irene that the popes usually have little to do with Jesus and are into power and glory. The pope you wish for would be an instant martyr.

It is clearly to the shame of John Paul II and Benedict XVI that bishops who courageously confronted an unproductive Curia and insisted on renewal became a group who did not let the Spirit lead them but reverted to the Council of Trent. The Council did bring some confusion but did bring enormous good. The last two monarchical popes restored order and lost much of the Spirit.

An article at La Stampa today points out that within a matter of a few months the heads of most of the major Christian churches will have been replaced, including the leaders at Rome, Canterbury, Antioch, Cairo, and Damascus. Even the patriarch of the Russian orthodox has not been office many years.The article points out that three of the replacements are quite young, and Bartholomew of Constantinople, though he has been in office a while, is a young man.I ask, is the good Lord trying to tell us something? Coincidences do happen, but so many coincidences all at once is really against the odds. Maybe He thinks it's time for the young to bring their insights to bear. Some, though not all, of the new men are very young for their positions. If young outlooks is what is required now, how will this affect those who hate change? And yough doe usually imply change.Wondr hat Nate Silver would say about all this :-)

Good, strong teeth. Well-shaped hooves. Pasterns not too big. A deep chest and a heavily-muscled croup.

I am hoping the next pope will be a lot like me.The Vatican treasures are priceless. They belong to the world. The best thing to do is to leave them in the hands of the Vatican. Does anybody really want to see the Piet auctioned off? It is impossible even to put a price on it. Where else would it go? Does anyone want to privatize the Vatican Library?

In the late 1990s I attended an annual seminar On St. Augustine's writings at Villanova University. One of the regular attendees used to rave about Ratzinger and say, with great conviction and apparent authority, that Ratzinger would be the next pope. We all laughed. Too bad he didn't attend the seminars in the mid 2000's. We would have owed him an apology.I am reading on some American-Catholic blogs a push for Cardinal Burke and I am getting scared.

Since the job itself is an impossible one for any human to fulfill, I would like to see a Pope willing to restructure it, and the rest of the holy governance mess, so the Church has at least a chance of running itself effectively (spiritual leadership aside).Today the Church is governed as a monarchy. The Pope exercises supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power. There are no built-in checks and balances. There is nothing equivalent to a legislature. If the Pope wants to change the Code of Canon Law, he does so without the advice or consent of the bishops. There is also nothing comparable to a separate judiciary; the Pope is considered the supreme ecclesiastical judge, with judicial power exercised by the executive branchs various congregations and tribunals. Such a setup is a recipe for disaster, and thats what weve gotten. Autocracy and dysfunction go hand in hand.The essential problem is that autocracy cannot coexist with representation, checks and balances, accountability, transparency, and modern standards of justice. For example, even today, after 20 years, after all those broken lives, and three billion dollars (and counting), the diocesan sexual abuse review boards (according to the Dallas Charter) still have no control over the records and reports they see and cannot enforce their recommendations. They can only advise. In this and in all other matters, the bishop has first and final say. The situation is inherently irreparable and needs to be recognized as such. You cant add transparency and accountability, etc. to an autocracy. Its structurally impossible. We either tolerate existing governance structures and eat their consequences or reconstitute them from top to bottom.

"The Vatican treasures are priceless. They belong to the world. The best thing to do is to leave them in the hands of the Vatican. Does anybody really want to see the Piet auctioned off? It is impossible even to put a price on it. Where else would it go? Does anyone want to privatize the Vatican Library?"Well, they could sell these things to other museums. And most of us have not actually seen the Pieta, just pictures of it; we'll still have the pictures. And if selling off these "priceless' treasures could save the lives of some people, or even one person, I would say it's worth it.But ultimately, I think our religious leaders should just follow whatever the Gospels say to do with the treasures of this world.

NCR today has a fine piece by a priest, Fr. Daly, that is quite good.

I heartily second John Hayes' idea: a pope who would choose the name of John XXIV.

I agree with David Nickol. The artistic treasures in the Vatican are not for this generation to auction away. They were created by past generations for passing on to future generations. The Vatican are merely the stewards. I don't see how transferring stewardship from the Vatican to the Italian government (or even, God forbid, to private hands, where they might get hidden away and become inaccessible) would help the poor. If the Italian government has money to pay for those treasures, they could instead use that money directly to help the poor.The local government in Paris has recently sold a lot of its historical buildings to private investors, using the proceeds to balance its budget. Part of that budget are the social services. So it's kind of a similar reasoning: get rid of historical assets to help today's poor. How is that a good idea? It's short-sighted and, dare I say, ruinous. In addition there are now a number of historical sites that can no longer be visited because they now belong to private owners. Tour guides show us pictures and comment: "This is the ballroom of what used to be Duke x's private hotel. It was open to the public until ten years ago, but no longer, because now it belongs to the sheik of y." Why are today's elected officials allowed to dilapidate in a few years what had been built over generations? Greece has a humanitarian crisis. They could sell off their antique marble statues, preserved for 2000 years, to help feed this year's poor. Does anyone really think that that would be a good idea?But I am ranting.

Does anyone really think that that would be a good idea?Yes, Claire, I do.

Please do not overlook Dominic Preziosi's thread before this one on Angelo Scola on marriage. Scola is apparently a leading contender for election.What a mess: "The cardinals logic, in fact, seems to be that feminism is responsible for homosexuality, because the more women act like men, the more men are likely to want to have sex with other men."As I wrote, how do you deal with that level of ignorance at that level of the hierarchy? Preziosi has done a great service presenting Luke Timothy Johnson's review of Scola's book on marriage. Read and weep, if not despair.

I think all Americans should get down on their knees and implore the Holy Spirit to NOT allow the election of ANY U.S. Cardinal to the office of pope.Check out the list of those under 80: a couple of possible exceptions (DiNardo & O'Malley) can anyone actually think that the rest of them would be of the QUALITY necessary to deal with the mess in which this church finds itself in these days and this age?

But Irene, having a statue going from one pair of hands to another doesn't actually create food. Why should they have to give up some of their national treasures in order for other people to give them food? That does not make sense to me."You want food? Sell me your ancestral land first, and then I'll give you food." I see it as exploitation of the poor by the rich.

Today the Washington Post had an article entitled American Catholicism is at Crossroads by Marc Fisher. I was startled by a comment by Elizabeth Scalia, one of the people interviewed. The world has gone superficial and promiscuous and morally avaricious, and the church is standing against that .I do not intend to present my thoughts on that opinion, since I do not think it would be appropriate on this blog, although I am appalled by the choice of language and the approach expressed.So, in response to the question about I am hoping for in the next pope. I am hoping for a pope who does not reflect such sentiments about the world. I think it would be a disaster.

I could support the election of anyone who would seriously preach -- and enforce -- the notion of subsidiarity, starting at the level of the Roman curia. A good start would be to dissolve the curia and reorganize accordingly.

Helen: she is a Scalia. You expected better, maybe?

Carolyn ==I totally agree. What I had read earlier about Scola was impressive, but his anti-feminism is unbelievable. It is so outlandish that it would be funny if it weren't so out of touch with reality. I'll bet it is the rare man in the Vatican who has ever known a woman well besides his mother, grandmother and sisters. How many have had female friends outside of their families? And yet they get together and tell each other what marriage is. Hmph.

"out of touch with reality." And we circle back to a core problem, the parroting of papal utterance as though it, and only it, reflected reality. Like the USCCB letter on marriage a few years ago - over 100 footnotes, all referencing papal documents. Electing a new pope will not solve that problem. It might change the direction of the wind the bishops will test with their fingers in the air, but the problem will remain. Hence the need for the reform of the nature of the job itself, and it's power.

Helen,I am hoping for a Church that is not superficial, not promiscuous and not "morally avaricious." (not sure what that last is, but sounds bad and I don't want any of the things I can think of for it's meaning) So maybe that is what we do need, a Church that will stand against that. The current version has not been doing too well on those fronts, so an example of repentance from our leaders for our failures would be a great start.Lord, send us a pastor who will lead us into the depths of our selves to find you. Confront our superficiality and promiscuity by fostering a greater respect for you without grasping at what falls from your table. Feed us so that we may feed others who ache from the incessant shallowness they find in life. Help us all to know you in our own depths, and in each other's.

Ann,I am grateful Commonweal has a prominent link to the book review itself at its home page for special coverage of Benedict's resignation The book was published in 2006, and is not even a 35-year old effort from Scola's youth that embarrasses him now.Spread the word about "The Nuptial Mystery" before Scola possibly gets elected. Though the electors themselves might not see anything wrong.

It is becoming more apparent as time goes on that the bench strength of those eligible for the papacy is so filled with me of a rarified background and experience that one needs to despair of the possibility of a new pope who is pastoral rather than bureaucratic and legalistic.I foresee an ever-increasing bleed of people from this church, particularly if the new pope is of the JPII and B16 mold .... and how could he be otherwise?


That s/b "men" and not "me" of rarified ...I know that I am rarified .....

How about the new Filipino Cardinal? Tagle he seems kind of holy and concerned about a lot of the right things. Is he too young?

Jim McCrea:She is not related to the Supreme Court Justice, even by marriage. Scalia is her husband's surname. (Google Search)

Helen: Then she should know better!

Does the article's author call for a disengagement from the "Culture War" against human trafficking, international belligerence, injustice? What is derided is the author's personal choice.Contrary to the article, the Church is not against homosexuality. Can one be against the fact another is born blind? Nearly one Billion years of evolution has resulted in male and female with bodies and minds paired for a logical reason. Unless it is a choice, homosexuality is the disunion of the bodys evolutionary intent and the mind. One should love anyone born with an error in genetic code, because this applies to all. But, society playing lets pretend is a lie even if done out of sympathy.I certainly did not follow the Church on much while in college and that certainly applies to birth control. That said, watching Europe generationally wither away it is hard not to see some wisdom in the Churchs position.May the next Pope follow reason and science on these issues as did Pope Benedict XVI.

I believe Cardinal Tagle is only in his 50s -- younger than John Paul II at his election.

How about Cardinal Rai? He's Maronite. We would go to Rome and hear the Mass in Aramaic. Wouldn't that be fun? Maronite priests are allowed to marry: I wonder if he's married. There would be lots of photo ops for the papal couple.

A Pope Joan II would be a rather pleasant change, don't you think?Cardinal Rai wouldn't be a bishop if he is married. Tainting ordination can go only so far, you know!

collegiality and decentralization

I've sworn off combox comments but David Nickol's quip at 3:29 hits the nail on the head: "I am hoping the next pope will be a lot like me."Ain't it the truth? Have we finally stumbled on an observation we can all agree on?

I would be sorry to see great artistic and historical treasures pass into private hands and become inaccessible, although very few people can afford to travel to see them, wherever they are.But accumulation of vast wealth in the Church does raise important questions. I remember forty or so years ago when the exterior of St. Patrick's Cathedral had a hundred years of grime sandblasted away at a cost of $3 million. The building looked great, but some people wondered what other great things could have been done with that money. Some even wondered if Christians really need cathedrals, with or without grime. I believe St. Paul spoke to the Athenians about that.Great wealth and aristocratic-monarchical governance go together in the Church. There may be a sort of civil service, though not necessarily a meritocracy, for advancement in the Church today, but for centuries the highest offices tended to be reserved for younger sons of noble families, who were accustomed to have the best of everything. Their successors still dress in silks and satins, lace and brocade. They drink from jewel-encrusted golden cups, the likes of which I doubt ever touched Christ's lips. And they live in palaces. No wonder they do not think it necessary to listen to their subjectsexcuse metheir sheep.Church history is certainly not without counterexamples: the poor, quirky, kindly fathers of the desert; that Italian guy who thought a brown robe tied with a length of rope was enough to cover him; Dorothy Day and the people she loved to be with; and of course the Son of Man, who had no place to lay his head.I know that the modern world runs on money, and without it many good works are never attempted. And I'm not asking bishops to live under bridges. I just hope that the Church will meditate once more on the meaning of povertynot destitution, just less vain displayand ask what the words "if thou would be perfect" say to us today.

Karl S,If homosexuality has survived a billion years of evolution, and gay men and women are still among us, peace be with you.

Irene,I agree with you - sell the Vatican treasures and give the money to the poor. The art work can go to other museums where everyone can still see it. Some people have the idea that all the art at the Vatican museums is Christian - it's not, it;s Greek, Egyptian, Etruscan, Asian, etc., as well as Christian - and there's no reason I can imagine that a church needs to run a for-profit museum. My perfect pope would make a lot of changes - he'd make the position of pope time-limited (maybe 9 years like the head of the Episcopal Church), he'd allowed married men and women to be priests, would allow for some form of democracy within the church, would declare an end to the war on LGBT people, would ok divorce/remarriage and contraception, and would spend more time helping others instead of trying to manage them.

I would like a Pope (and a Church) that is more willing to say "We don't really know, but we think these are the key things to consider" rather than "Stay away until you can follow these rules."

A holy man.

Reading David Nickols Im hoping the next pope will be more like me, one recalls the final line of A Hymn to Him in My Fair Lady: "Why cant a [pope] be like me?" (apologies to Lerner and Loewe)

My perfect pope would declare freedom of speech for all and enshrine it in canon law. The CDF would be limited to going after those who do things that are judged to merit condemnation; those who only say things but who do not act would be left in peace. Catholics would be encouraged to express ideas freely, good and bad ideas alike. Dialogue would thrive. Divisions would be exposed and explored, but through love and prayer, by the Holy Spirit they would be healed. Through creative discussions, Catholics would think of new ways to be in the modern world. The entire Catholic church would be like one big Commonweal. The pope would listen. He would learn from the church. His rare decisions would be informed by the counsel of many holy men and women. There would be no fear, only joy. Christ would visibly be with us and people would flock to join.

We certainly must give credit to Joseph Ratzinger for finally overcoming Cardinal Soldana, Maciels patron and beneficiary, and censuring Maciel. Jason Perry , in his NY Times oped, says that as a final act he should remove Soldano as dean of the Cardinals. Gary Wills chimes in with an op-ed in the same newspaper saying that he has little hope in the next pope since he thinks he only has the authority and that is the fundamental error. "A gift for eternal truths is as dangerous as the gift of Midass touch. The pope cannot undo the eternal truths he has proclaimed." Precisely why infallibility is a farce. So the new pope should ratify the commission of Paul VI and acknowledge the good of contraception. If nothing else to quiet the American bishops.

I would like to see a pope who recognizes that the next pope should be elected by a more representative group than the non-elected electors making up only 0.000005% of the faithful.

The Church is not about the Pope but about facilitating or mediating or actualizing a relationship with Jesus Christ.I would hope the new Pope would embrace simplicity and focus on the sacraments and the Bible. Following that emphasis, he should separate sacrament of holy orders from administrative offices.He could institute some important symbolic moves such as appointing women to key roles of leadership within the Curia. Curial functions are not necessarily connected to the episcopacy. We need the voices and thought of women in these roles.I do not think he has to be a world class scholar but he does need to be able to listen to the many voices of talented lay and religious theologians and scientists in the Church. He needs to have the gift of wisdom and clarity of vision and more importantly the will to carry these out.In some ways, I admire Pope Benedict XVI and respect what he did and his writings and book on Jesus of Nazareth. He was not, however, a strong leader. I don't know that democratic structures are the solution. Even in our democracy the strong and powerful STILL access the levers of power and I see little evidence that democracy has had the effect of enabling poor and marginalized to have access to those levers. The fact that this situation exists, as well as the shameful condition of homelessness, unemployment and poverty is something that we, as lay Catholics, are responsible for. Let's clean up the mess in the "secular" world and leave the internal Church mess to the leadership. Granted they have been doing a poor job....but so have we.

Quot homines, tot pontifices

How about this: instead of having a designated household preacher and always hearing from the same guy, the new pope would hear from a different preacher every day. There are enough visiting priests and deacons that it would be possible to never repeat. After a while, he would start to get an idea of the mind of the Church. He would experience unity in diversity.

Claire --You are asking for structural change. I mean you're asking to put counter-ideas systematically into the minds of the members of the old boys club. But the rules of the old boys club do NOT permit the articulation of different opinions because different opinions lead to confusion! Confusion is to be avoided at all costs!! The Holy Spirit told us to avoid confusion. Didn't He/She/Whatever?

" the Church is not against homosexuality. Can one be against the fact another is born blind?"Nice piece of hate speech, in denial of the fact that homosexuality is a mode of seeing, just as hetero- or bis-sexuality is. Pity the poor blind who cannot grasp this." homosexuality is the disunion of the bodys evolutionary intent and the mind" -- "an error in genetic code," -- is this some sort of Jackson Pollack exercise with pseudoscientific jargon? -- listening with the third ear is sounds as if you are expressing a strange degree of body-mind dissociation -- "I certainly did not follow the Church on much while in college and that certainly applies to birth control. That said, watching Europe generationally wither away it is hard not to see some wisdom in the Churchs position." Yes, the last resort of the humanae vitae gang: "let's outbreed the pesky immigrants."

Greg Burke, the Vatican Communication Director says that he "assumes" that Benedict's title after Februry 28 will be "Bishop of Rome Emeritus" and not "Pope Emeritus" had expected it would be just "Cardinal Ratzinger"

Ross Douthat's brief for a young and energetic pontiff, and some striking thoughts on the spirituality of a pope in decline. "When I am weak, it is then I am strong."

Over at Rorarte Caeli, they have worked out that only 12 of he 117 cardinals entitled to vote have ever celebrated an Extraordinary Form Mass since the Ordinary Form Mass was introduced forty years ago. Philippe Cardinal BarbarinRaymond Cardinal BurkeCarlo Cardinal CaffarraAntonio Cardinal Caizares LloveraVelasio Cardinal De PaolisJohn Cardinal Tong HonJuan Cardinal Sandoval iguezGeorge Cardinal PellAlbert Malcolm Cardinal RanjithJean-Pierre Cardinal RicardFranc Cardinal RodAndr Cardinal Vingt-Trois causes some uneasiness for traditionalists.One commenter suggested that the conclave should elect Bishop Fellay.

The Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi,may be right in thinking that there may follow a flood of other resignations. When the man at the top leaves, the move is likely to reverberate through the whole of a bureaucratic structure like the Curia. A little fresh air would be welcome.

"The Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi,may be right in thinking that there may follow a flood of other resignations"That suggests (or, at least, suggests that Fr. Lombardi wishes) that the next pope will not be a caretaker, and continuity will not the watchword. We'll see what happens.

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