Monday, February 18, 2013

An American as Pope?

Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J. is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church (Harvard University Press, 1996). He was editor in chief of America from 1998-2005.


What are the chances of an American being elected?

Almost zero. First, although a number of the American cardinals are fluent in Spanish, Americans are not great linguists. Second, and most important, the cardinals would worry about how the election of an American would be perceived around the world, especially in the third world and Muslim nations. Many in the third world would suspect that the C.I.A. fixed the election or Wall Street bought it. Muslims would fear that an American pope was going to be a chaplain for the White House. Finally, through the centuries the church has tried to keep the papacy out of the hands of the reigning superpower, whether that was the Holy Roman Empire, France or Spain. When France captured the papacy, it moved it to Avignon in 1309, where it stayed until 1377.

Who would you bet on to be the next pope?

I am not Jimmy the Greek, nor do I gamble. If you want to know what a bookie thinks, see paddypower.com: Who will be the next Pope?

What issues will be discussed in the conclave?

Tip O’Neil was correct: “All politics is local,” even in the Catholic Church.

The cardinals from the third world have people who are starving and suffering from the negative impact of globalization of the economy. They will want a pope who will speak out for social justice and forgiveness of third world debt and be willing to stand up to the American superpower. Cardinals from Africa and Asia are confronted by growing Islamic fundamentalism. They will want a pope who understands Islam and will not use inflammatory words like “crusade,” as did President George W. Bush. They want a pope who, like John Paul, will support dialogue with Muslims but at the same time stand up for the rights of Catholics.

On the other hand, in Latin America there are few Muslims. The concern there is the evangelicals and Pentecostals who are “stealing their sheep.”

In North America and Europe, the cardinals will want a pope who will continue the fight of Benedict against secularism and relativism but also support ecumenical dialogue with Protestants and Jews. Given the growing alienation of educated women, they would also want someone who projects an understanding of women’s concerns. The last thing they would want, for example, is a pope who would decide to get rid of altar girls. The American cardinals would also want someone who understands and supports what they are doing to deal with the sexual abuse crisis. Europeans are concerned about the growing number of Muslims in Europe.

What happens after the election?

The cardinal dean asks the man, “Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?” Since Cardinal Ratzinger was the dean, he was asked by the sub-dean. Rarely does anyone say no. When offered the papacy at the conclave in Viterbo in 1271, St. Philip Benizi fled and hid until another candidate was chosen. Likewise St. Charles Borromeo, one of the few cardinals to be canonized, turned down the papacy. When Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, the 76-year-old archbishop of Milan, began receiving votes during the conclave in October 1978, he made it clear that he would refuse the papacy if elected. If the man says yes, then he becomes pope immediately if he is already a bishop. The rest is simply ceremony. If he is not already a bishop, he is to be ordained one immediately by the cardinal dean and becomes pope as soon as this has been done. The dean in ancient times was the bishop of Ostia, a nearby town.

He is then asked by what name he wants to be called. The first pope to change his name was John II in 533. His given name, Mercury, was considered inappropriate since it was the name of a pagan god. Another pope in 983 took the name John XIV because his given name was Peter. Reverence for the first pope precluded his becoming Peter II. At the end of the first millennium a couple of non-Italian popes changed their names to ones that the Romans could more easily pronounce. The custom of changing one’s name became common around the year 1009. The last pope to keep his own name was Marcellus II, elected in 1555.

The cardinals then approach the new pope and make an act of homage and obedience. A prayer of thanksgiving is then said, and the senior cardinal deacon informs the people in St. Peters Square that the election has taken place and announces the name of the new pope. The pope then may speak to the crowd and grant his first solemn blessing “urbi et orbi,” to the city and the world. John Paul I and John Paul II prolonged the conclave until the following morning so that they could meet and dine with the cardinals. After his election, Benedict also invited all the cardinals to dinner at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

The inauguration mass took place on Sunday, April 24, 2006, five days after the election (in the past this would have involved crowning the pope with the papal tiara, but since John Paul I involves the receiving of the pallium). Later still he took possession of his cathedral, St. John Lateran.