April 5, 2005


The Next Pope...and Why He Matters to All of Us (George Weigel, January 12, 2005, EPPC's Fourth Annual William E. Simon Lecture)

The fact that we are even having this discussion – here in Washington, under the sponsorship of a major foundation and an ecumenical and interreligious research institute – is itself a testimony to the accomplishment of John Paul II. Some years ago, a prominent national political commentator who is not a Christian said to me, "You know, in 1978 I could have cared less who the next pope would be. Now it means something to me personally." I suspect my friend’s sentiments are replicated in hundreds of millions of hearts and minds throughout the world. The papacy has traditionally claimed a global role; the pontificate of John Paul II has given specific meaning and empirical texture to that claim. The cardinals who will elect the next pope know this. And as they ponder the implications of that remarkable fact, they will know something else: they will know that, in an important sense, they will be electing a pope for the world as well as for the Church.

The papacy now matters to virtually everyone. It matters to those for whom it represents the center of the divinely-mandated ordering of Christ’s Church. It matters to those for whom the papacy represents a global focal point of Christian unity and witness. It matters to those for whom the pope is a defender of universal human rights with a global platform. It matters, if in a rather different way, to those Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese, and North Korean totalitarians who fear the capacity of the Catholic Church to inspire liberation movements, as it has done during this pontificate in east central Europe, Latin America, and East Asia. And it matters to those who deplore the Catholic Church and its moral teaching as perhaps the last great institutional barrier to the triumph of a utilitarian ethic and the advance of what some genetics researchers unblushingly call the "immortality project."1 Voltaire would be spinning in his grave at the thought of the papacy as a defender of the "rights of man;" and I rather doubt that Huxley imagined the papacy as a counterweight to the evolution of the brave new world. Yet precisely such hopes – and fears – may be found throughout the world today, in this twenty-seventh year of the pontificate of John Paul II. All conclaves are, by definition, "unprecedented." But those hopes and fears will help make the conclave that elects John Paul’s successor an unprecedented one in a distinctive way. [...]

[T]he next conclave will...operate within a different structure of expectations than its predecessors. John Paul II’s retrieval and renewal of the evangelical and pastoral papacy – a papacy of preaching, teaching, witness, and encouragement – has changed the Church’s expectations of popes, and the world’s, too. These expectations are already creating a refined set of criteria for assessing possible candidates for the papacy. There is, for example, an emerging consensus among a significant number of cardinal-electors that one of the next pontificate’s principal tasks will be to concretize in the life of the Church the profound and challenging vision articulated by the pontificate of John Paul II: which is another way of saying that the next pope, in the minds of many electors, might well exercise a stronger administrative hand than his predecessor. At the same time, it is virtually inconceivable that the cardinal-electors, given this changed structure of expectations, will elect a man whose only, or even primary, qualification for the job is a reputation for making the trains run on time. The cardinals are well aware that personal holiness, intellectual depth, pastoral imagination, and communications skills are crucial in a 21st century pope – and will be measured quickly, by the world and the Church, in those first crucial moments when the new pope speaks urbi et orbi, "to the city and the world," on the day of his election and at his inaugural Mass. It would perhaps be too much to expect that the next pope will announce himself in so riveting a way as John Paul II, the self-described man "from a far country" who boldly challenged the world to "be not afraid," and to "open the doors to Christ." But neither does anyone expect, or really want, the new pope to announce himself by laying out a detailed plan for the bureaucratic reform of the Church – important as certain such reforms may be. [...]

What, then, are the great issues facing the Catholic Church in the early 21st century? And how will the Church’s grappling with those issues affect "all of us?"

At the outset, it may help to clarify what the issues are not. Neither the next conclave nor the next pope is going to change the Catholic Church’s teaching on the morally appropriate way to regulate births, although the cardinals may well discuss how to present that teaching with greater pastoral effectiveness. Neither the next conclave nor the next pope is going to endorse abortion-on-demand or euthanasia; the inviolability of innocent life is a bedrock principle of both natural and revealed law, and the Church has no authority to declare the use of lethal violence against innocents morally justifiable. Similarly, while the pre-conclave prattiche and the conclave itself may involve some discussion of the effects of the revolution in women’s lives (and the concurrent revolution in men’s lives) on the Church and the world, the Church’s practice of calling only men to the ministerial priesthood is not going to change, because, as John Paul II stated eleven years ago, the Church is not authorized to change that practice. There will likely be some discussion of the advisability of ordaining viri probati, proven and tested older married men, to the ministerial priesthood in situations where the shortage of priests is drastically impeding the Church’s sacramental life – but the cardinals well know that this solution, if in fact it be that, will create some problems as well as address others, and we need not expect (nor, from my point of view, should we want) a full-scale retreat from the ancient linkage of celibacy and ordained ministry in the Catholic Church.

Which is to say that virtually all of what the New York Times imagines are "the issues" for the Catholic Church aren’t, in fact, the issues, and aren’t going to play a significant role in shaping the next conclave and the next pontificate

So what are the issues?

Three large-scale issues are already under discussion within the College of Cardinals and among other senior churchmen, and will certainly weigh heavily in the conclaves’s deliberations, in the next pontificate, and in the Catholic Church’s interface with the 21st century world. The first of these is the virtual collapse of Christianity in its historic heartland – western Europe. The second great issue is the Church’s response to the multi-faceted challenge posed by the rise of militant Islam. And the third involves the questions posed by the biotech revolution. Questions of the Church’s intellectual discipline will also be discussed in the next conclave, and I hope to show in a moment why those questions, properly understood, are of considerable consequence for "all of us". Then there is a question that may or may not come up in the prattiche, the general congregations, and the conclave deliberations of the cardinal-electors, but which, in my judgment, should be addressed: and that is the question of the Church’s diplomacy, or, to be more precise, the set of ideas that have guided the "foreign policy" of the Holy See for more than two generations now.

The awesome reality is that Pope John Paul II was the first pope to be the moral leader of all of Christianity in about 5 centuries.

A Great Christian: John Paul II was beloved by Protestants, too, because he was the world's greatest defender of orthodox, Bible-based Christianity. (Fred Barnes, 04/02/2005, Weekly Standard)

EVANGELICAL PROTESTANTS loved Pope John Paul II. Many felt more in harmony with him than with the leaders of their own denomination. I attend an Episcopal church and I certainly preferred the Pope. He was the world's greatest defender of orthodox, Bible-based Christianity. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and possibly a majority of its bishops are among the great diluters of classical Christianity.

The truth is evangelicals could admire the Pope without wanting to convert to Catholicism. Sure, important differences remained between Protestants and Catholics, but John Paul II made them seem small. He was pro-life, pro-family, anti-totalitarian, and quite a lot more that conservative evangelicals identified with. Richard Land, a prominent Southern Baptist leader, once told a Catholic friend that Pope John Paul II was a "Pope who really knows how to pope." I suspect what Land meant in using "pope" as a verb was that John Paul was bold and unswerving in proclaiming salvation through belief in Jesus Christ. He did this all over the world, despite declining health and personal risk.

During John Paul's 27 years as Pope, evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics grew closer together in America's culture wars. There was a kind of "ecumenism of the trenches," said scholar Timothy George. They agreed on the need to protect--or in some cases, to revive--traditional values and to insist on a place for people of faith, particularly Christians, in public life.

After the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in 1973, Catholics provided most of the energy and the
troops for the pro-life movement. But by the late 1970s and early 1980s, conservative Protestants were joining in large numbers. They not only were welcomed, but they felt comfortable being allied with Catholics in the era of Pope John Paul II.

Three more things about the Holy Father were especially appealing to Protestant evangelicals: his courage, his anti-communism, and his appeal to young people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 5, 2005 11:53 AM

And appealing even beyond that boundaries of Christianity. No little feat.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 5, 2005 1:56 PM