The Future


On the pope’s attitude toward the war in Iraq, strong words of condemnation may not have been uttered, but I think commentators are (probably correctly) parsing the more nuanced comments you cite in light of the tradition of papal understatement and intimation.

Speaking of the commentators, I see from television that, now that John Paul has died, they are beginning to replace the near-hagiography of the deathwatch period with a salting of criticism—an interesting reversal of “De mortuis nil nisi bonum.” It’s being pointed out that he was slow to react to the American pedophilia scandal, presided over a decline in priestly vocations in Europe and the United States, saw many of his injunctions about contraception and divorce honored in the breach, etc., etc. I suppose the next gear into which Groupthink will shift is speculation about a successor, so let’s get started.

I’d be interested in your reaction to two questions:

First, with the exception of Cardinal Ratzinger, all of the names on various shortlists seem to be those of less-assertive and intellectually distinguished men than John Paul II—and perhaps less able and less willing to serve as a globetrotting pastor. That possibility, I know, cheers some liberal Catholics, who believe that a downsized and decentralized papacy might advance their agenda—more diversity in discipline (optional married priesthood, liturgical innovation) if not in dogma. How do conservative Catholics regard the prospect of a more pastel, less assured papacy—which might be a fair description of any successor at least at the beginning?

Second, granting that the pope is more than a player on the world stage, it seems to be a given that international politics will play a role in the conclave—for example, in eliminating any American cardinal from consideration. I note that three cardinals on most shortlists are German speakers—Lehmann and Kasper from Germany and Schoenborn from Austria. German cardinals were reportedly influential supporters of Wojtyla’s election at a time when memories of World War II may have ruled out one of their own. Has enough time passed for the College of Cardinals to consider someone from territory once ruled by the Third Reich as “papabile“? Liberals probably would hope so, given not only the views of those three cardinals but also the fact that Northern Europe played such an important part in the theological and liturgical ideas that gained sway at Vatican II.

Mike McGough