Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Next Pope

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.


  1. Greetings from Madrid, Spain, from a progressive Catholic. I have just discover your blog and I am going to follow it from now on.

    Kind regards

  2. Good read Tom........here is my new post I did on the concept of a "Vatican III" Catholic...we share some similar hopes.


  3. Of course, if Cahill were correct he would not be Christian nor would virtually any member of this blog. It is true that the pope lives in a palace but by first century standards almost every american lives in a palace.

    Jesus did not have bank account. I am sure that Cahill has a bank account as do almost all the members who read this blog. So are they not real Christians?

    Jesus did not have a home. I am sure that Mr. Cahill has a home as do most members of this blog. So are they not real Christians?

    Jesus did not eat macroni and cheese. I am sure that most of the members of this blog did not eat mac and cheese. So are they not real Christians?


  4. What an incredibly judgmental post.


  5. The Pope is not only the heir of Peter. Is the heir of the Ceasar, as well. So, I think all that splendor is part od the "Pope thing". It is normal. Besides, all the high art that the Catholic church has produce or finance since ages is part of that splendor. And is good.
    From my view, the problem is other: the child abuse and the cover up.
    I think we pay too much attention to the Pope. We should learn from the Anglicans. The Archibishop of Canterbury has a very low prophile, but mostly because the Anglicans do not really care about him.

  6. This pope, even as a Cardinal/Archbishop, cooked his own food, lived in a small apartment instead of the cardinal's mansion, and took traveled using public transportation. Sounds like he's a Chip Off the Old Rock, going back to Peter!

  7. If you have been unhappy with the way things have been, maybe you are not truly Catholic.

  8. I would like to offer a different perspective. What about personal vulnerability as a strength of service? I read that it was not until Pope John Paul II's obituary that it became widely known that he had Parkinson's Disease. Upon reading that and contemplating who might succeed Benedict XVI, I wondered whether the College of Cardinals might have the courage to select someone with personal vulnerability--tangible vulnerability that exceeds, or personifies our vulnerability as human beings. My belief is that such personal vulnerability would give the Pope the receptiveness to people of different perspectives that he might not otherwise engage with intellectually, and in all other aspects. None of us knows how Pope Francis I will serve as Pope. Yet, we do know something of him. Jorge Mario Bergoglio brings to Pope Francis I tangible personal vulnerability--Jorge Mario lives with one lung due to the loss of one lung to infection when he was a teenager.
    I am sure there will be points of disagreement--strong disagreement--yet, I wonder how he might serve--how we might be served to be enlightened by his vulnerability. May we--can we--bring our own personal vulnerabilities to our work to re-form--to strengthen--our church.

  9. Great to have an Hispanic Pope!

  10. Actually, I think it's a bit of a stretch to consider him Hispanic. He's the son of Italian immigrants.

    1. Hispanic is anyone who speaks Spanish as mothertongue. Spanish is the national language in Argentina.

      Latino is anyone who speaks any language coming from Latin language. So, he is a Latino in 3 ways: Spanish as national mothertongue, probably their parents spoke Italian to him at home and... he is a Catholic priest, so he speaks flunently Latin.
      So... a TOTAL Latino.

  11. As well...
    He is the first American Pope, and I think he is the first non European since Peter, who was from Near East.