a little east of reality

Monday, April 04, 2005

speculation on the new pope

The death of Pope John Paul II has left the inevitable vacancy and already the papers are full of speculation over which candidate might be elected to take his place. There is talk of Italy wanting to reclaim the papacy and Dionigi Tettamanzi is the one the bookmakers have their best odds on. Nigerian Francis Arinze would become the first black pope if chosen. Interestingly, there are more English-speaking Catholics in Africa than in all the other continents put together.
Obviously I have no strong feelings either way (not being Catholic) but I do admit to a small curiosity to see what unfolds if the next pope is Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, a Cuban. And this could happen, given that the southern hemisphere holds 40 percent of the world's one billion Roman Catholics, and 27 voting cardinals, though they do say that Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga is the Latin American favourite.

Overall I’m interested in how political all these considerations are. So far the only reference I’ve read to doctrine and style of leadership is that the cardinals are likely to choose someone more likely to be a healer than a confrontationalist. John Paul II was considered conservative, so they may choose to vote for someone more liberal. There was discussion on how the criteria for choosing the new pope often centres around what are considered to be the faults of the previous pope.

It will be three weeks or so before a decision is made. This had me thinking about succession in general. In Tibetan Buddhism the period of uncertainty is far longer. They believe that when a Dalai Lama dies he is reborn and a search is made for his reincarnation, based partly based on instructions left before his death. Of course once the child is identified, he will be taught for years before he really assumes the role.

For the Church of England things are simple, but narrow. The head of the Church is the reigning monarch. I must say I find all the hoo-hah over Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles getting married to be a little much. They can’t be married in a church because of the church’s attitude towards divorcees remarrying, particularly when their ex-spouse is still alive, as Camilla’s is. There’s a strong concern about Charles being the next head of the church anyway, given that he is not only divorced but also committed adultery while he was married to Diana (with Camilla in fact). The whole thing just strikes me as ridiculous. After all, the reason there’s a Church of England at all is because King Henry VIII wanted to get divorced and marry his mistress. Crazy stuff.

All this does make me appreciate the simplicity of the process in the our church. If the prophet were to die today, we already know who will succeed him; the most senior (by date called, not age) of the twelve apostles. This isn’t me launching into a comparison – there is plenty of criticism out there regarding our church leadership – I’m just saying I find this particular aspect comforting. I’ve been a member long enough to see three church presidents die, and it was a very smooth and easy transition each time. I like this because it gives everyone the chance to mourn for the president who has died without a wave of speculation and vying for position going on at the same time.

This I think is what troubles me about this current process. There’s a reason for the separation of church and state. Religion isn’t politics. Whoever they choose will lead a billion people from all over the world. I hope the cardinals making the decision are able to focus on the right leader for this time, seek God’s guidance, and to set aside questions about which country or region’s 'turn' it might be to provide a pope. And I hope the billion people praying about it right now are praying for them to understand who God wants to lead that church, and not just praying for their own personal favourite.