16Feb I hope he will be ‘a regular guy’ — an American pastor’s hopes for the conclave

Like everybody else, I was surprised to hear that Pope Benedict was resigning. But I was also relieved for him. It has been painfully obvious that he is declining. At Christmas, we saw him wheeled around on that rolling platform. He looked tired. It was time to resign.

Perhaps the most important legacy of Benedict XVI’s papacy will be his resignation. It has set a very healthy precedent. In an age when medical science can keep us living well into our 90s and maybe even past 100, it is important that popes should feel free to resign when they are no longer up to the task of their ministry. Pope Benedict showed true pastoral concern for the church when he recognized he could not carry on.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he lived through the final years of John Paul II’s papacy. He saw his friend decline, and he knew the church was drifting for the last few years of that long reign. Yet John Paul II felt bound by tradition to carry on until the end. Benedict XVI has freed future popes of that burden and perhaps freed the church from a major problem of having a senile or incapacitated pope. He deserves our thanks for this precedent.

The Benedictines have a saying about the selection of a new abbot: The abbot should be ne numis sapiens, ne nimis sanctus, et ne nimis sanus — not too healthy, not too wise and not too holy. In other words, they should select a regular guy. That’s what I hope for: a regular guy.

What does that mean in the context of the College of Cardinals? They are 120 guys, all pretty much cut from the same clerical cloth. They are all older men and accomplished church politicians who have been serving in church offices, where everyone is Catholic and everyone deferential.

But I hope we get somebody who has at least some experience as a parish priest. I hope we get someone who has heard confessions and done marriage counseling, been on youth retreats and done marriage prep. It would be nice if he had the experience of being alone in a parish where he had to do all the liturgies, week after week, and struggled to inspire the same people with his preaching. I hope he has had to explain the teaching of the faith to skeptical youth and angry adults. I hope he has to deal with divorced people.

I hope we get somebody who had not lived exclusively in the world of chancery offices where people give him deference and obedience all the time. I hope we get someone who has dialogued with evangelicals, Muslims and atheists as equals. It would be nice if he has a few friends who are Protestant clergy and he has come to respect them as intelligent and sincere Christians, every bit as saved as he is.

I hope we get someone from a big family, with many brothers and sisters.

I hope he has a lot of nieces and nephews who have challenged him around the dinner table and in family gatherings. Maybe some of them have married outside the church or have left the church to join other religions. He has attended their weddings only as a family member. Perhaps one of those nieces and nephews has come out to him as gay and he has had to love them still.

I hope he has several strong-willed and outspoken biological sisters who have more than a streak of feminism. Maybe they have told their brother that they use birth control. Maybe they have responsible and substantial careers outside the home where women are the boss.

I hope he is a man who has many old friends. That he has kept his friends since childhood and that some of the people on his Christmas card list still call him by his first name. Maybe some of them can still remind him of the stupid things he did or impetuous statements he made in his youth. There is nothing like an old friend to bring you down to earth.

I hope we get somebody who is in touch with his own humanity. It would be nice if he was a man who admits that he, too, is a sexual being who has struggled with human desires and impulses like everybody else.

I hope we get a man with a sense of humor. It would be nice if he was not too much of ninny. He might even be able to tell a joke once in a while and laugh at himself.

I hope we get somebody who puts on his pants one leg at a time. In fact, it would be nice if he would wear pants. Clerics should leave behind the silly affectation of dressing like they are still living in some Renaissance villa or a Baroque painting.

I hope we get a man who knows what it is like to be poor. It would be nice if he has dealt with the homeless and drug addicts and the sick for a few years of his life. It would be good if he has had to struggle like the rest of humanity for his daily bread. It would be nice if he has held a job and had to pay his own bills.

Maybe the cardinals could look around the room and perhaps even look outside the room for the new pope. There is nothing in canon law that says they have to elect a cardinal.

One thing is for sure: We need to try something new if the church is to be revived. What Yogi Berra said about baseball managers is also true about the cardinals’ choice: “If you do what you have always done, you are going to get what you have always got.”

6 Responses

  1. Eddie Finnegan

    Peter Daly, if we get a paragon like that for a pope it’ll really be time to yell, “Santo Subito!”
    Only problem is that there seem to be quite a few US Catholics who would claim that Timothy Dolan is a real Regular Guy.
    As for the bit about the ‘pants’, I suppose that’s just an example that proves we are divided not just by the Atlantic but by a common language – but for a nanosecond or two I thought: ‘well, if the Devil wears Prada why can’t the Pope wear Panties?’ – though that may be the next conclave.

  2. Darlene Starrs

    Very well said. My first criteria, is that the new Pope, not be another noisy gong and clanging symbol………but someone who is truly “rooted” in Christ, listening to Christ, and acting according to His will.

  3. Winifred

    My hope for the new Pope is that he would be a good shepherd to the flock of Christ, that he would lead rather than follow the straying sheep who are wandering in all directions. A man that guards the Truth. We need a holy man of deep faith who can instill faith in the clergy who in turn can instill it in us. Life is difficult. We all have crosses to carry if we are following Jesus. The cross could be a broken marriage, difficulty keeping commandments on chastity, a disabled child, ill health, etc. We need shepherds who will teach us what is right and not just what we would like to hear. A shepherd who will teach us that if we are following Jesus it will not be an easy road and encourage us on our journey.

  4. Darlene Starrs

    On the front page of the Saturday, February 16th edition of the Irish Times is an excellent article: New Pope, Same Church? One quote from this article is from Hans Kung: “it might matter little if the college of cardinals picks an African, an Asian, or a Latin American as the next pope, such is the “romanisation” of the Church HQ that unless radical organizational changes are introduced to the curia, the Vatican’s adminstrative apparatus, the man will simply be absorbed by its medieval ways and rendered relatively ineffective”. ……Kung argues that “the medieval-baroque Vatican court” must be transformed into a modern efficient, central church administration”…..and then the article ends with the following statement: “Many in the church may now be ready for change, but is the college of cardinals equally ready?”

    I thought there was potential for lively discussion from these quotes from the article. My sense, is that the “Italian machine” is certainly well entrenched, but hopefully will not be able to stifle progress. The issue for me is that, the two spheres of the Church………..the church of the West and developed countries and the church of the developing countries may be a source of greater divisiveness than we think. We therefore, from the political aspect of governance, need someone who able to “treat” both circumstances with Christ-like remedies.

  5. Mike O Sullivan

    like many the anticipation of a new Pope brings with it a sense of expectation of change,not for the sake of it but change that is needed because the church is not a static institution but a living breathing manifestation of Gods love for ALL his people.My hope for a new Pope is that who ever he may be,that before they vote those who do so listen truly to the Spirit,may immerse themselves in the message of Christ and have the courage to be bold and move foreward.I do not want a revolution,I do not want the baby thrown out with the bathwater,what i do want is a church who will at least listen,will at least engage in meaningful dialouge,a church that dispels the notions of the left versus the right by being truly inclusive a church that does not alienate based on gender and sexual orientation.Am I hoping for too much? hope not

  6. Lloyd Allan MacPherson

    Darlene, you are right in thinking there could be different results. After contemplating a worldwide vote many times over, I could see issues in the South concerning gender equality. The role of women in their larger, more traditional families has retained its importance; women are considerably more “family-centric” whereas men are less likely to be at that residence where the most important work/decisions are made on a daily basis. Now that being said, this may translate to a gender bias of some sort in these areas and could result in people more likely to vote against the ordination of women. My belief is that it couldn’t be an individual category as was offered up by the ACP. The “poll” itself (now don’t think I’m crazy for thinking all Catholics could be polled and not just the 1000 or so *thanks ACP*) if it is to be accurate, should completely encapsulate Natural Law and not divide Natural Law among “married priests”, “ordained women” and “sexual teaching”. It is either one or none, as it should be since the fundamentals of Natural Law are lost in its division. This was one of the faults I observed in the first vote. It created the opportunity for division rather than truly uniting people. I’d be confident to say the numbers for “all three” would be no less than the initial percentage for “married priests” in Ireland, especially if the referendum contained a clause that would disallow any future Pope from interpreting “Natural Law” to his benefit without actually polling the Spirit as it flows through the “baptized”. But don’t worry, the South is ready for this. The priest to parishioner ratio in their corner of the world is larger than anywhere else and most masses are presided over by volunteers (possibly unpaid?)…