I’d say the question misses the point, but I’m highlighting this interview for a couple of reasons. First, Matt Lauer has done what many in the media won’t do, which is to get someone who knows what he’s talking about to discuss the papal succession — and he’s done it two days in a row. Yesterday, Lauer invited Cardinal Timothy Dolan to discuss the implications of Benedict XVI’s resignation as Pope, the first in nearly 600 years. Today he interviews the highly-respected Fr. Robert Barron to discuss what the cardinals want in the next Pope, and Barron emphasizes continuity in doctrine while suggesting organizational reform:
Barron authored the Catholicism series, which is taught in parishes throughout the US and provides much-needed catechesis to rank-and-file Catholics. Our parish has just started the series, and it’s excellent, especially for evangelization within the Church itself.
If you’re interested in the leading names in the mix that have popped up in the media over the last 24 hours, Barron explains the gifts of each, and the potential. A number of readers hope that Cardinal Dolan gets the nod, and he’s one of the potential candidates discussed. The most valuable part of the conversation takes place in the first minute, though, as Barron rightly points out that the focus in the conclave will be on evangelization of the constant faith, not innovation in doctrine, which is simply not possible for any Pope. There may be reform in organization and in some practices, but those who expect the Pope to somehow become less Catholic will be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Kudos to Lauer for hosting two informed discussions on the topic. Perhaps more will follow his lead. The Washington Post invited Fr. Dwight Longenecker to share his thoughts on other issues surrounding the papal succession in today’s edition, especially on the potential incongruities that may occur with having both an active Pope and a retired Pope simultaneously. He offers an intriguing historical analogy:
With Benedict’s retirement, what may develop, is a papacy with two parts. A pope emeritus who is a theologian and man of prayer–a man with over forty years experience of the papacy, the Vatican and all its workings, and therefore a man who remembers and can advise and guide the younger man.
Remember the role of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. After her husband died she became a senior member of the English royal family, a trusted adviser to the queen, a friend of the young royals and a fixed point of continuity and tradition. The senior pope–papa emeritus–becomes just that: a senior adviser, a friend and counselor and an advocate and supporter of his successor.
A man more driven by ambition and ego than Joseph Ratzinger may find such a role impossible. He will not. A man of his intellect and creativity will be able to function in exactly this role as an elder statesman–a wise retired abbot and a theological and ecclesial consultant.
It’s an interesting comparison, and the most likely outcome for as long as the then-Cardinal Ratzinger can participate in that relationship. But at Patheos, Fr. Dwight really lets it all hang out in his argument for an African Pope:
Africans have more important things to think about than women’s ordination or gay marriage. Their issues are things like getting a job, saving some money, improving their lives for their children, building a school or a hospital or a parish church. They’re concerned with the invasion of their countries by colonialist powers. They’re interested in peace and justice not in some academic Marxist textbook sort of way–but in real things like their own hungry children, their old people living in slums and their sons and daughters selling themselves on the streets.
The right African pope will shift our wealthy, decadent minds away from the petty problems of our dying culture of death and make us pay attention to a continent that is teeming with life.
Most of all, the right African pope will shift our attention back to the vital core of our faith. In Africa the Catholic faith is vibrant and strong, and most of all it is supernatural in its understanding. God is real. Angels and demons are real. The barren results that a dull academia which sells reason without faith are seen in our eviscerated Western Catholicism. This kind of cynical, tired agnosticism is unknown in Africa. In the West we have too many greying clergy and nuns who sit in their big empty convents planning New Age retreats or managing retirement incomes. The idea that the Catholic Church was founded by the incarnate Son of God and that it is God’s instrument on earth for the salvation of souls, the victory over death and final eternal glory is considered to be unworkable, impossible and even worse: bad taste.
In contrast, the Church in Africa is thumpingly vibrant and strong. There’s no nonsense about the faith. The ancient primitive religions with their bloodthirsty practices are still too close for comfort. Africans understand the battle against the devil. They see it every day. They understand the forces of darkness and realize that the core of the Catholic faith is the monumental struggle between the powers of darkness and the force of Christ’s radiant light. The right African pope will bring a fresh awareness of the heart of the faith to the whole church.
That would be quite a testimony indeed. I’m sure the Holy Spirit will lead the conclave to the best possible choice for what lies ahead, of course, but that’s a great argument.