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Monday, April 11, 2005

The Next Pope

I'm certainly no expert on the Church of Rome or Vatican politics. But like almost everyone else, I can't help but cast my prediction for who will be elected the next pontiff. According to WORLD magazine, there are 117 voting cardinals from 52 countries. All but two or three of them were placed into office by John Paul II. About half of them are from Europe (58). And there are as many cardinals in Italy (20) as in Germany (6), Spain (6), France (5) and Poland (3) combined.

Based on those figures, some are predicting the next pope will be European, and quite likely an Italian. Karol Wojtyla was the first non-Italian pope in close to 600 years. There is some logic to selecting an Italian as pope. After all, he is the Bishop of ROME.

But he is also seen as the head of all the catholic church worldwide. And since the Catholic Church in Western Europe is fading rapidly, along with all other Christian bodies due to secular materialism and, ironically, a re-surgence of good ol' fashioned paganism. It seems that many NW Europeans are saying, "Just Gimme that Old Time Religion." They're becoming Wiccans and neo-pagans.

The Catholic Church is experiencing tremendous growth, however, in other parts of the world: East Asia, Latin America and Africa.

With all that in mind, I think they will select Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. Let me tell you why:

  • He's 72 years old which means he is unlikely to serve for anywhere nearly as long as his predecessor. The scuttlebutt is that that is something the College of Cardinals will take into consideration.
  • He's got a lot of personality and humor, much like John Paul. I see him interviewed frequently on EWTN and he has a lot of charisma. Like they say about George W. Bush, he's probably someone you'd like to have a beer with (though I suspect Bush doesn't drink).
  • He's described as a die-hard theological conservative who's not shy about speaking out. Again, not unlike JP2. For many, this is a plus, but it could work against him as well.
  • Here is the tipping point for me. He's from a Muslim country and served for almost 20 years as the Vatican's chief liason with Muslims. In 1978, the College of Cardinals went against long-established practice and very shrewdly chose a Pole. In the height of the Cold War, to select someone from an Eastern Bloc country had a powerful impact in undermining Soviet communism. Today, the counterpart may be seen as the War on Terror. It is just possible that the same shrewdness may lead these men to elect an expert in Islam who has had many years dealing with Islamic leaders and comes from an Islamic country. Mark my words.
  • And finally, name recognition. To be elected pope, a super majority is going to be needed, unless they stalemate for a while in which case the conditions are loosened. But since many of these Cardinals are from poor remote places, they might not all know each other personally very well. So a well-known person has an advantage. Arinze is widely travelled and known far beyond his native land.

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Anonymous said...


Rick Ritchie said...

Benedict XVI has been elected since your post. But your reasons were all good. I think we may still see Arinze become pope some day. They may have decided that if they valued both Arinze and Ratzinger, the church would only get the benefit of both if they elected Ratzinger first.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Yes, you make a good point. Arinze is 72 and Ratzinger 78. The German had the advantage of 20+ years in the spotlight standing next to John Paul. I like Arinze partly because I think electing him pope may have helped establish greater stability to western Africa.

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