By Tom Cahill
Note: Tom Cahill, the author of numerous books including How the Irish Saved Christianity and Pope John XXIII: A Life, was recently asked by The Wall St Journal to write a piece that would begin, "The new pope should be ..." The following was submitted but turned down because, Cahill believes, the paper did not care for its political implications.
The next pope should be a Christian, that is, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Most popes have not been that, especially over the past millennium and more. Indeed, the idea of a Christian pope takes us so far from the historical norm that we must completely replace the images in our head with startling new pictures.
A real Christian would not wear special clothes nor would he live in a palace. Jesus had neither bank account nor art collection. He didn’t even have a home to call his own, for as he said to one inquiring contemporary, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). “The Son of Man” was Jesus’s usual description of himself. It was not intended as an exalted description nor even as a special designation. A better translation might be “Humanity’s Child,” in other words, a plain human being. The new pope would live among the poor, as Jesus did, perhaps even be homeless on occasion.
The new pope would not enjoy being addressed by special titles, nor would he wish to be called “pope” (or “papa”). Gregory the Great, elected bishop of Rome toward the end of the sixth century, was one of the few truly great popes. He refused to be called “pope,” saying “Away with these words that increase vanity and weaken love!” A bishop, insisted Gregory, should be ever “a minister, not a master,” who tries “to subdue himself, not his brothers and sisters.” The only title Gregory would accept was “Servant of God’s Servants.”
If he is a true Christian, the new pope will "hunger and thirst for justice" for all, as Jesus recommends in his great Sermon on the Mount. Of course, with that kind of attitude we can only expect the new pope to get himself into enormous international trouble. Perhaps even more trouble will come his way if he feels called to be a peacemaker, another of Jesus’s recommendations, trying to make peace among those who are at war with one another. Of course, he will need to start with his fellow Christians.
The new pope would make no distinction among categories of persons. He wouldn’t care whether one was Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or a non-believer. Jesus obviously didn’t care about such things, since he made his great example of human goodness a Samaritan, one of those unthinkable heretics, whom all the upright of Jesus’s time despised. But the Good Samaritan halted his journey for the sake of rescuing a mugged man whom none of the conventionally “good” people wanted to help. Let him bleed to death on the side of the road, they shrugged. No, said the Samaritan, let me take care of him till he recovers. In this way, the new pope would be like his greatest predecessor, John XXIII, who made no difference between one set of believers (or non-believers) and another.
If the new pope is a true Christian, we will probably crucify him.