It’s been painful watching the media attempt to cover the papal succession. Beyond the incessant coverage of Catholic scandals (real and imagined), everyone seems to have an opinion of what the next pope should do or what he should be like.
Many of their views regarding the next pope are so divergent from Catholic tradition that I wonder if any of these journalists have ever studied Catholic history or theology, or do they intentionally jam the papacy into modern constructs?
The pope is not a politician.
In our hyper-political world, many people assume the pope is the president of the Catholic Church. As we well know, presidential succession hinges on the idea of change. If the president is a Democrat, the Republican candidate offers a message of change and vice versa.
Contrarily when one pope leaves, the next one should not seek change but continuity. Unlike economic theories or foreign policy, the church’s teaching should not fluctuate from pope to pope. If one pope upholds a teaching, the next one is not going to come in and overturn it.
If you are hoping for a new pope that will switch the teachings of the church, you are going to be disappointed. The next pope is going to hold the same beliefs as Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and those before them.
Additionally, the pope as a politician would be a disaster. The church as a democracy might sound good, but the last thing I want is morality determined by a majority vote. Can you imagine a papal nominee campaigning throughout the Catholic world? Just think of a candidate trying to shore up the youth vote by promising to make premarital-sex no longer a sin.
Undoubtedly, the next pope will have a different personality and management style than previous popes, but he will teach the same exact things as those before him.
The pope is not a CEO.
There are 1.3 billion Catholics, 410,593 priests, and 5,065 bishops. The pope is the spiritual leader of the church; he does not manage it day to day. Given the numbers listed above, it would be impossible.
Unlike a CEO who is constantly reviewing performances, promoting and demoting subordinates, the church allows bishops a great deal of autonomy in administrating local dioceses. I would even argue that priests are impacted more by a new bishop than a new pope. Likewise, the average Catholic is affected by a new pastor more than new a pope.
Given this fact, the single most important managerial task of the pope is the selection of bishops and cardinals. Sadly, this important task was neglected in past decades, and many individuals with questionable backgrounds were promoted, causing great confusion and scandal in the church. In the past eight years, Benedict XVI was much more proactive in removing problematic church leaders and selecting bishops who are orthodox, able administrators, and serious about preventing abuse within the church, a fact overlooked by the media. My one hope is that his successor makes even greater strides in this area.
The pope is not a public relations guru.
News articles have often blasted Benedict XVI for his formal style and stiffness. The pope does not need a dynamic personality, for Catholics should not follow the pope due to his celebrity status.
Recent popes, like all men, had faults, but fortunately, they were also men of great personal holiness, which has not always been the case. Many Renaissance popes, for instance, were outwardly evil, living openly in sin, yet the church persisted and the faithful remained loyal.
It is a scary thought, but the next pope could make a major plunder or be personally involved in a terrible scandal. While it would be horrible, it should not disturb our faith.
The pope is not God.
The pope as God may seem odd to Catholics, but go to the comments section of any article on the pope and you’ll see people writing that Catholics make the pope to be more important than Jesus.
This attitude is most likely due to confusion around papal infallibility. I assume that many non-Catholics believe that if the pope casually said that 1+1=3, all Catholics would have to believe it. I dare not wade into the complex theological debate surrounding papal authority, but suffice it to say, the pope rarely speaks ex cathedra, the mark of an infallible statement. Any non-Catholic reading this blog can rest assured, we do not worship the pope nor is everything he says a dogma of our faith.
Moreover, the vast majority of what the popes have said and written is merely an explanation, elaboration, and reiteration of truths previously defined. If you look at the most controversial topics – abortion, women’s ordination, homosexuality, – the “shocking” declarations of the pope are only restating what previous popes have said hundreds of times before.
The pope is a shepherd.
We are a wandering flock, and the pope is our shepherd guiding us to God. Looking at the thousands of other Christian denominations, I see many leaderless churches without unity and holding contradictory beliefs. In God’s wisdom, he provided us with his vicar on earth to keep us on the correct path.
This blog is perhaps a letdown in the building up to the next pope. The man who is pope, be it Wojty?a, Ratzinger, or whoever is next, is not as important as the office, and ultimately, it is God who is in charge of the church. That said, I am eager to have the seat occupied once again. It is comforting to know that the ship I am on has a captain.
All the talking heads continue to instruct the next pope to do this or that. Let us not seek the pope that we want but the pope that God desires, and let us pray that he has the strength and wisdom to complete his trying task.