Friday, March 08, 2013

What to Look for in a New Pope

What to Look for in a New Pope

The cardinals now gathered at the Vatican are choosing not just a new pontiff but a future course for their embattled Church. Six views on what sort of leader the next pope should be.

Joyous Anyway

By Peggy Noonan
The next pope should be a man who can greet the world with a look of pleasure on his face, with a smile of joy. He should not come forward with the sad, bent posture of one who knows the world is in ruins and only the facades remain. He should be joyous anyway.
What he has ahead of him looks fairly impossible. He has to confront The Scandals in a way that allows the world to believe that they are over, that a corner has been turned and there will be no going back.
The Scandals seem now as great as the scandals that prefigured the Reformation. They are that dangerous to the Church, threatening to tear it down in the eyes of the world. The next pope must understand this. In his first months, he should take dramatic action, including the wholesale retirement and removal of as many as possible of those involved.
It would be wonderful if, at the moment the new pope is declared—Habemus Papem, "We have a pope"—not only the doors of the Vatican balcony were opened to reveal him but every window in the Vatican and the great doors of Saint Peter's itself. Open the doors, be vital, invite sunlight, show the world that a new time has begun.
When you open and clean a beautiful old mansion that hasn't been cleaned in a long time, it will raise a lot of dust. But the dust isn't new dirt; it is just proof that a cleaning is going on. The new pope shouldn't fear making it all look worse. It hardly can.
At the same time, the new pope must bring Catholicism back to basics, not to elaborations on a theme but to the theme itself. The modern Church, at the very highest levels of its thinking, in the writings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has become somewhat abstract and cerebral. Such things have their place, but for now, in the ruined world, what's needed is a reintroduction of Christ to the rising and post-Christian nations alike, always with an eye to meaning, meaning.
So the next pope must clean up the inside of the Church and journey constantly to the outside. It would be good to see him smile, embrace the world, wade in, as if his love of life itself is a proclamation of the realness of God and an appreciation of the vivid world He gave us.
Ms. Noonan writes a weekly opinion column for the Journal.
A Culture Warrior
By George Weigel
When conceived in strictly functional terms, democracy demeans itself, and the gears of democratic politics too often freeze, as we have seen in venues ranging from the U.S. Congress to the Greek parliament. Democracy is more than the institutions of democracy; it takes a certain kind of people, living certain virtues, to make democracy work. That's been the teaching of the last two popes, and the next pope should drive home that message to democracies old, new and aborning.
In doing so, he would usefully deepen the debate over some of today's most divisive public policy issues by posing several Lincolnian queries.
Can democracy "long endure" if public policy measures human beings by their utility (and thus by their "cost") rather than by their inalienable dignity? If utility is the measure of man, no one is safe and the chillingly wicked, eugenic notion of "life unworthy of life" seems less a bad memory from the pre-Nazi German past than a contemporary standard by which to allocate health-care resources.
Thus the new pope would make a major contribution to shoring up the cultural foundations of the democratic project if he would press the case for the inalienable right to life while expanding the Church's already-extensive services for women in crisis pregnancies and those in need of compassionate, dignified end-of-life care. In doing so, he would model a more humane approach to life than the cold pragmatism now eroding the moral fabric of Western democracies.
Can democracy "long endure" if public policy compels religious institutions to be conveyor belts for government "services" that a religious community considers immoral? Or if the state decides who ought to be a religious minister? As an advocate for religious freedom in full and religious freedom for all, the new pope can help to strengthen civil society and its free institutions, which are both elementary schools of democracy and barriers against the encroachment of the Leviathan state.
Can democracy "long endure" if democracies lack a critical mass of citizens who cherish the common good as well as individual freedom, who complement self-reliance with voluntary charitable service to others, and who understand that they have obligations to future generations, not just to me, myself and I? A pope who calls the West out of the sandbox of self-absorption and into a nobler vision of human possibility could do wonders for the democratic project.
The next pope should be, in short, a charismatic, missionary culture warrior, challenging the world's democracies to rebuild their moral foundations and offering Catholic social doctrine as one tool for that urgent task.
Mr. Weigel is the author of "Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church," recently published by Basic Books.
A Catholic Gorbachev
By James Carroll
The man who steps into the Shoes of the Fisherman should be a leader who can do for the Church what the last general secretary of the Communist Party did for the Soviet Union. A Party functionary tapped by the Politburo to shore up the shaken Soviet Empire, Mikhail Gorbachev dismantled it instead. If rigid Moscow can be efficiently upended, less by an individual than by historical forces that he was wise and brave enough to recognize, so can Rome.
The Catholic Church and Soviet Communism stand at opposite moral poles, but one remains what the other was: a command society defined by its rejection of democracy. The priestly sex-abuse crisis is the Church's Chernobyl, spreading radioactive moral ruin. The new pope must do as Mr. Gorbachev did—challenge his ruling elite, lay bare his power center's secrets and sideline the bureaucracies that oppose reform. He must understand that the Church will not succeed in standing against the principles of accountability, transparency and electoral governance that have transformed human aspiration around the globe.

If the Kremlin's military die-hards could be disarmed, the Church's war with modernity can be called off. If Mr. Gorbachev could befriend Ronald Reagan, a new pope can treat the leaders of other religions as equals and those religions themselves as authentic ways to God. If the Cold War could end in peace, so can the Counter-Reformation.
Mr. Gorbachev brought into the open currents that had already been undermining Communism from below: glasnost, perestroika, Solidarity, the Velvet Revolution. The next pope, too, can validate reform currents—feminism, gay rights, freedom of conscience—that have already changed the faith of millions of Catholics.
The ethical sphere in which a pope acts couldn't be more different from what confronted Mr. Gorbachev in the fading days of Soviet tyranny. Yet, facing a Catholic version of such obsolescence, and retrieving Gospel virtues as the truest measure of the Church, why could the Vicar of Christ not do as much?
Mr. Carroll is Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Suffolk University and a columnist for the Boston Globe.
Among the Poor
By Michael Sean Winters
The next pope will find himself living in one of the planet's most lavish palaces, in the trappings of a 17th-century royal court. He will be a modern celebrity too, with all the expectations conferred by that status.
Still, there are steps he could take to identify himself more closely with the world's poor. Pope Benedict XVI had a penchant for elaborate, baroque dress. He did this, as I understand it, because of his commitment to the ideal of beauty in the Church's liturgy. But a simpler attire can be beautiful too, and it wouldn't make a parent struggling to feed her children wonder why so much money is spent on luxuries.

The new pope will be the Bishop of Rome. Like many bishops throughout the world, he can make time to go to soup kitchens and serve the poor, visit the infirm in hospitals and go to local prisons, spending time with those whom the rest of the world tends to shun. Such visits can become a regular part of the new pope's foreign travel schedule. A pope must visit with the powerful, with civil and ecclesial leaders, to be sure, but there is no reason he cannot regularly visit the world's poor as well.
Identifying with the poor would allow the new pope to give visible evidence of Catholicism's deep-seated suspicions of modern consumer capitalism. Capitalism values thrift and aggressiveness, its heroes are the protean, self-made men of industry. It thrives on competition.
But Christians follow Jesus Christ, whose grace is gratuitous, not thrifty, whose life was characterized by contemplation, not aggression. Jesus was not a self-made man but radically dependent on his Father's will.
Jesus, and the Church that Catholics believe he founded, valued solidarity more than competition. He characterized his ministry as bringing good news to the poor. Benedict XVI was not shy about criticizing capitalism in his writings. We need a pope who will critique it by his actions.
Mr. Winters is a reporter for the National Catholic Reporter and writes the blog Distinctly Catholic.
Ready to Play Offense
By Mary Eberstadt
No sooner had the unexpected news from Rome ricocheted across the globe than certain whispered hopes began to be heard: Time now for women priests. Time to abolish the celibate priesthood. Time to soften up on birth control, abortion, marriage. Such are the perpetual longings of those who would remake the Catholic Church by aligning it with that North Star of modernity, the sexual revolution.
The next pope can pop those trial balloons by energetically deploying Christianity's most underutilized asset these days: doctrinal orthodoxy. That, and only that, will move the Church out of its defensive crouch and back into forward mode.
Everyone knows what stands in the way of such assertiveness: 10-plus years of sex scandals. Hence the first order of business is to establish that the scandals, as an institutional phenomenon, are over. Perhaps also a radical new organization—say, a monastic order dedicated to penance for the sins of the sexual revolution itself—would help to clarify a thing or two about messaging.
Then maybe the rest of the world can get around to a widely overlooked but potent truth: Christianity Lite has been tried repeatedly during the past few decades, and for Catholics and Protestants alike, the result has been graying pews, falling attendance, indifferent practice and children from "Christian" homes who do not know Easter from the Easter bunny.
Why? Because Christianity Lite turns its back on that other great institution whose fate has been historically twinned with that of the churches: the family. As the empirical record shows, where the family is strong, so are Christian communities and doctrine—and vice versa. For both Protestants and Catholics, it is orthodoxy, not heterodoxy, that galvanizes the faithful, mints new recruits and succeeds, literally, in reproducing itself.
Unprecedented numbers of fatherless homes, burgeoning levels of depression and anxiety, a sexual ethos so freakishly jejune that parents of every stripe fear it—these are just some of the specters now stalking the secular West. Then there are the crushing burdens outside the West that traditional teaching also addresses: the women around the world who suffer genuine oppression, like sex trafficking; the millions of believers persecuted for believing; the many other human beings unwanted by anyone else and upon whose intrinsic dignity Christianity—and sometimes, only Christianity—insists.
The best defense remains a good offense, and the riven secular world itself, however inadvertently, hands the next pope plenty of moral ammunition. He just has to be willing to use it.
Mrs. Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the author of "How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization," to be published in April by Templeton Press.
A Californian
By Paul Baumann
The novelist Walker Percy once insisted that the religious choice faced by modern Catholics is "either Rome or California." (Or at least that is what the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, a convert to Catholicism like Percy himself, once claimed Percy said.)
Presumably, Percy juxtaposed Rome and California because he thought California represented all that was trivial, transient and deeply alienating in modern life. Heedless, improvisational, materialist and seemingly unburdened by history, California was the future, and Percy wanted none of it.
But this is a false choice. As the breathless coverage of the papal transition makes clear, Catholics do not live in a world where California and Rome can be easily divorced from one another. In fact, the next pope should be a bit of a Californian.
The Catholic Church teaches that God entered history to redeem and consecrate it. Our salvation is being worked out not in some idealized past but in the often meretricious here and now. The incarnation gives this world—every corner of it—a greater solidity, a greater resonance.
If this is true, there is no writing off California and the future it portends. Rome is no refuge; it never has been, and as recent scandals remind us, never could be. Yet Rome has much missionary work to do—in California and elsewhere. That work will require a change in tone and a refusal to condemn what it cannot yet understand. It will entail a willingness to think anew about once settled understandings of sexual morality and about how the Church is governed.
As the Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor has written, Rome offers "too many answers choking off questions and too little sense of the enigmas that accompany a life of faith; these are what stop a conversation from ever starting between our Church and much of our world."
The future will surprise us as much as Benedict XVI's resignation did. Rome should prepare to be joyously surprised by what is new, for that is what the Church's founder promised.
Mr. Baumann is editor of Commonweal, the oldest independent lay-edited Catholic journal of opinion in the U.S.
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