The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 23, 2013

5 myths about picking a pope


The problem with most academics and intellectuals, especially philosophers and theologians, is that they have already made up their minds on important issues and rarely change them. It might be time for a skilled diplomat who has experience in negotiating and building consensus, useful skills for responding to the priest shortage, declining church attendance and internal divisions.

Both John Paul and Benedict got into trouble because they were surrounded by people who thought the popes were the smartest men in the world. Such people are reluctant to challenge their bosses. For example, in 2006 Benedict gave an address that included a quote from a Byzantine emperor denigrating Islam. If an expert on Islam had read the text beforehand, he could have warned that there would be a negative reaction from the Arab street.

4. Don’t expect big surprises from the next conclave.

In the new papacy, there will probably be more continuity than radical change. Don’t expect female priests next month. But the Holy Spirit can always surprise us, as it did with the election of John XXIII, whom the cardinals thought would be a “do nothing” pope; instead, he convened the Second Vatican Council, which transformed modern Catholicism. Everyone was also surprised by the 1978 election of John Paul II, the first non-Italian in centuries.

While the cardinals will be loyal to the pope, the new pontiff, once elected, has no one from whom to take his cues. He has to think, consult and pray before each big decision. Where that will lead him is anyone’s guess.

5. It doesn’t matter who is elected pope, nobody listens to him.

While the pope can no longer command absolute obedience among the faithful, he is still the leader of a 2.2 billion-member organization. What he says and does matters, whether it is regarding the Middle East, AIDS, climate change or many other issues that touch not only Catholics but everyone.

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