What qualities are needed in the next Pope?
In the LA Times on March 3, I was invited to reflect on this question. I suggested that the question was only less intemperate than my answer. No, I didn't glibly respond, as did New York Cardinal, Timothy Dolan: "someone in the mold of Jesus Christ." Sorry, your eminence, only one of those -- God's only begotten son, and all that. By the way, wouldn't the present leadership of the Church raise a fuss over that curious marital relationship between Joseph and Mary, let alone the somewhat parthenogenical conception, with the only human genetic material being supplied by Mary. But I digress; the intemperateness is not asking the all-important question about needed papal qualities; that is a fine and important question. It is the American assumption that these matters can just be ascertained by some sort of democratic exercise.
It is frequently said that the Catholic Church is not a democracy, and I repeated that in the Times, but I fear without explanation it was mistaken for regret or criticism. Hardly, the beauty of the Catholic faith is that it is not as based as democracy; at least, it is not intended to go rushing after corporate money to win legislative battles; it is meant to pursue the truth of the human condition wherever that truth can be found, on the assumption that in contrite humility, there is almost always something still to be discovered that should prevent us from judging one another in the sense of a popularity contest.
The American Cardinals are moping about that once again, they are not likely in the running. There are many reasons for this: hundreds, if not thousands, of priest abuse claims that have only grudgingly been acknowledged (though this infection is world-wide unfortunately, but even if that could be put aside (and it cannot), the most prominent American bishops have lowered themselves and the majesty of the faith to the level of the political.
The Americans have often forfeited the deposit of the faith to issue one damn judgment (or is it judgment of damnation) after another about our sexuality. Never coming to grips perhaps with their own choice of celibate lifestyle (which is not a dogmatic requirement, but a truly generous gift of self when rightly assumed), our modern prelates are content to throw their lot with the American right wing which takes a perverse joy in accusing everyone else of perversion. Even these judgments -- or judgmentalisms -- are inherently incoherent. The homosexual orientation is said in the same breadth to be a product of genetics and a wrongly disordered choice. Huh? Young marrieds understanding the rigors and responsibility of parenting and respectful of unborn life are condemned for artificial contraception. Women who were (and are) the mainspring of the Catholic education effort in the United States are proclaimed by papal pronouncement to be not a sufficient model of Christ the teacher. Where is a good wooden ruler when you need one?
The Catholic faith is intended to be beyond politics, not swallowed by it. The faith is about love of neighbor, even a neighbor who hates you ("love your enemies" is a command, not a request), but we have bishops who think nothing of calling the President "a Hitler," or using sacraments as weapons, or indulging theological claims so sweeping and unrefined to defeat the extension of health care to the poor and disadvantaged because well -- here's sex again -- some Catholic working for Taco Bell (not the Church; not a Church-run hospital or shelter; not a Catholic school) will be asked to make contraceptive coverage available as an employer on an insurance policy!
Now, I happen to think the Church's position on many cultural issues happens to be right on target; I am glad there is a place on earth that stands for the helpless and the unborn, and that takes up a vocation to teach in the most violent urban neighborhoods. There are also many, many pastors who have lived a faithful, celibate life fully devoted to every soul who wandered into the back pews. But these dedicated men of faith would do well to let their brother Cardinals know that God created the sisters, too and there has yet to be a persuasive syllable muttered about why they are presently barred from the diaconate or the priesthood.
There is also much to praise in the Church's history in its steadfast opposition to the terrors of international oppression: war, disregard of basic human rights, and there has been more than one profile in courage in the history of the Church who has stood fast against international violence -- not infrequently, in the name of religion.
So, then, what qualities should the next pontiff have?
Willingness to serve to the end. Yes, Benedict XVI likely made the right decision for him, and it is polite to praise his humility for realizing his own lack of energy for all important international travel to inspire and teach a la John Paul II, let alone for chasing the thieves out of the Lord's house, or at least the Vatican Bank. A papal candidate in his 60s or early 70s makes sense, and someone with some history of discernment and administrative acumen to do the right thing even when it results in bad headlines: as pedophilia and perfidy surely are. At 61, I very much like the idea of using the word "youth" to describe someone in their 60s.
But that youth should not inspire more pontiffs of the retiring kind. The Church cannot afford for the sake of clarity to start stacking up side-lined emeriti popes. Too many popes spoil the catechetical broth; anyone who has ever taken over for a boss who has only semi-retired knows of what I speak.
In addition to being "relatively" young, to also appeal to the actual cohort. My law and human rights students and their friends in their 20s and 30s look for the Holy Father to be an exemplar of service to the poor; a source of empathy with those excluded or treated with disrespect be they the migrant; the woman seeking to break the stubborn social structures that refuse common sense changes to make work and family more compatible; the gay or lesbian person whose orientation cannot both be conceded and mocked; and what should be easiest of all, an appropriate love for the children whose innocence has been stolen from them and not adequately reflected in needed humility and contrition.
The next pope must also not be unmindful of the real looming threat to religious freedom which has absolutely, positively nothing to do with Barack Obama; namely, it is that there are fundamentalist traditions afoot in many lands that will stop at nothing to impose coercively their distorted versions of faith. Much attention is given to Islam here because of the rightly painful scenes of death in the Middle East, but it is not limited to Islam; this unforgiveable contradiction of faith by violent imposition must be ruled out of bounds at the highest level -- not just by preachment, but wise diplomatic intervention. It would be helpful if the next pope was a natural or trained diplomat with a winning personality to match -- no disrespect intended to academics who could start a war with the wrong footnote and not have a clue about it.
Is there anyone who fits this?
Yes, and lo and behold, if chosen he would even make the Italians happy. Unfortunately, he is only an Archbishop so his name will have to be brought to the attention of the College of Cardinals. It has happened before -- why there have even been lowly priests named to the papacy -- Leo X comes to mind, and going further back, Saint Ambrose was named while he was still learning the faith as a catechumen. Yes, it takes a little extra effort to bring an "outsider" into the conclave, but for a Church still enjoying the renewal of Vatican II whereby the truly humble John XXIII threw open the doors and windows of the Roman Catholic tradition so others could see in, and equally important, we could see out means it can be done.
And if the search is done well, there will be likely many candidates. Here is one: Tommaso Caputo, 62, who hails from Naples.
Archbishop Caputo was ordained priest in 1974 and like John Paul II devoted his initial years in touch with pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Naples. But his winning nature inspired his senior colleagues to urge him to enter the diplomatic service of the Holy See, and he subsequently worked in the Apostolic Nunciature in Rwanda, in the Philippines and in Venezuela -- three very important locales where the growth of the Church can serve as a springboard for the desultorily secular Europe or the politically-misguided America or even the melancholy, but intrepidly honest, Irish.
Just prior to his recent assignment in Pompeii, Archbishop Caputo had the highly sensitive responsibility for Malta and Libya. In some ways, two more different tasks could not be paired. Malta, where the Catholic faith is established and thriving, and Libya where the work of the Church always stood heroically in steadfast but persistent love challenging the tyranny that was Qaddafi. And yet, Archbishop Caputo and his brother bishops and priests nourished in Libya as well as Malta a similarly profound respect for the faith -- a faith of both prayer and action. And Archbishop Caputo did not change the gospel message one iota to suit his friends -- needless collateral destruction from a NATO air strike was equally faulted with the targeting of civilians by the now deceased strongman who did so much to enrich himself, and so little for everyone else.
And administrative skills, John Paul II brought then Monsignor Caputo into the Secretariat of State, and ultimately appointing him Chief of Protocol.
Last fall, Pope Benedict rewarded all this hard work with a new mission as the Archbishop-Prelate of Pompeii. Volcanoes aside, it is a lovely place, and Archbishop Caputo is no doubt joyfully promoting the shrine dedicated to Our Lady there. Perhaps, he is destined to stay there promoting the long history of devotion, mission and evangelization through the prayer of the Rosary.
But, forgive me Archbishop, if I say just a few decades for your being called into the front office - run it.