Now that everyone is chuckling -- albeit some a little nervously -- about Stephen Colbert's campaign for the presidency of the United States, I want to raise a truly serious question.
Could he become the next pope?
Matt Moore, Executive Director of the South Carolina Republican Party, obviously thinks not. "Stephen Colbert," he says, "has about as much a chance at being elected president in South Carolina as he does of being elected Pope."
But what if he has a BETTER chance of becoming Pope than of gaining the White House?
Just consider a few things.
First of all, Stephen Colbert is named for the very first martyr to the Christian faith: Saint Stephen, a man "full of faith and power" who "did great wonders among the people" (Acts of the Apostles 6:8) but who -- shortly after the crucifixion of Christ -- was stoned to death for preaching on His behalf (Acts 7:59). No man of our time resembles Saint Stephen more than Stephen Colbert, a staunch Roman Catholic with a devoted following of young people deeply inspired by his eloquent advocacy of strictly conservative values and Christian faith. A few years ago, I distinctly recall his proudly reciting from memory every word of the Apostles' Creed -- right in the middle of his show. Furthermore, since I taught at Dartmouth for nearly 40 years, I knew Stephen well as an undergraduate, and I can assure you that at least once a week in his Dartmouth years he was totally stoned.
Secondly, at a time when the great ship of Roman Catholicism is rocked by scandal and captained by a frail octogenarian, we desperately need a fresh and firm young hand at the helm. I say this with all due respect to Pope Benedict XVI, who -- to shift metaphors slightly -- has newly fortified the church's seawall of dogma and doctrine against all the raging tides of godless modernism: against contraception, abortion, homosexuality, married priests (except of course for ex-Episcopal ministers creeping in through the back door) and the ordination of women, who blindly and stubbornly fail to see that God never meant them to be priests, for otherwise He would have made them bearded Jewish fishermen. For all these reasons, Benedict XVI resoundingly deserves the everlasting gratitude and admiration of his worldwide flock.
Nevertheless, since this 85-year-old pontiff cannot live forever, it behooves us to begin thinking now about his successor. And I can think of no one more worthy than Stephen Colbert.
You may say, of course, that Stephen is not even a priest, let alone a cardinal, a prince of the church, and it is only from the college of cardinals that a pope may be chosen. But as a staunch defender of Roman Catholic conservative values, Stephen IS a prince of the church. Furthermore, he is a man of cardinal importance to Catholicism in America, as well as a champion of red state values. Anyone who watches him closely on television can see that his handsome head is invisibly but unmistakeably crowned by a cardinal's red hat. (In Greek, by the way, the word stephanos means crown.) He is unquestionably the eminence rouge of our time.
But, you will say, Stephen Colbert cannot possibly be pope because he is a married man. To which I reply that so was St. Peter, the Pope of Popes, the petrus -- the very rock -- on which Christ founded His church (Matthew 16:18). Scripture makes it absolutely clear that Peter was a married man. At Capernuum, we are told, Christ healed Peter's ailing mother- in-law (Mark 1:29-31), which incidentally may help to explain why Peter later denied Him three times (Luke 22:57-59).
And so my dear conservative brethren, let us dream together. Almost a thousand years after the death of the last Pope Stephen (Stephen IX) in the year 1058, let us dream that we will have another pope of that name, and that one fine day soon, after Benedict XVI goes to his eternal reward, a plume of white smoke rising from the chimney of the Sistine chapel will signify the election of the first American pontiff in the history of the Roman Catholic church. Then from the balcony of Saint Peter's will come the ringing words, ever ancient and ever new: "Habemus Papam! Habemus Papam! Stephanus X!" He will not even have to change his Christian name.
Though he may have a long commute to his Manhattan studio.