Ben Witherington on Picking the Next Pope

Ben Witherington’s suggestions all boil down to this: Don’t pick a Roman Catholic!

1) Pick someone over 50 but under 65 for a change. We need a younger person with fresh ideas not to mention someone in the peak of physical health. [How many Cardinals are under 65?]

2) If you can find someone who is as good and critical a thinker and theolog as Pope Benedict, by all means pick that person; [good idea]

3) Pick someone who is not so wed to Catholic traditions that have not been part of ex cathedra pronouncements that he would tend to avoid some serious changes— like for example the option of a priest to be married if he did not have the gift of celibacy. This in itself would probably reduce the danger of pederasty considerably.

4) Pick someone who is prepared to continue the ecumenical discussions with Evangelical Protestants, working towards more concordats on faith and praxis.

5) Pick someone who is prepared to continue the process of weeding out superstitious practices and inessential ideas. For example, the recent dropping of the expectation that a good Catholic ought to believe in limbo is a good thing. In short, a more Biblically focused faith, and one less steeped in traditions that do not comport with the Bible (for example Jesus’ descent to the dead) would be a welcome development.

6) Pick a Pope more concerned with protecting his sheep than his shepherds when crisis arises, especially when the crisis is caused by the behavior of the shepherds themselves. Continue to set up accountability structures to protect the young, the innocent, the naive, the poor, and so on.

7) Pick a Pope from somewhere other than Europe. It would be nice to have a North American one for once, considering that English both on the Internet and off of it is the lingua franca of an increasingly global community, society, market.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • James Petticrew

    Don’t hold your breat Ben

  • Emily

    It kinda sounds like he’s saying “pick someone more like me”.

  • http://bobcornwall.com Bob Cornwall

    Sounds like a job for a Protestant! But then it wouldn’t be a Catholic Church, would it?

    By the way, one of the reasons why Benedict stepped down was because he wasn’t a good administrator. Many of the problems facing the Catholic Church are administrative, and so I expect that one of the key criteria the Cardinals will look for will be ability to administer the church. That’s why many think the hat will go to Cardinal Scola of Milan. I’ve read that he knows how to govern.

    Someone from outside Europe will emerge eventually, but my bets are on an Italian.

  • Rick

    Allan Bevere recently wrote:

    “I must also say that the wish list put forward by some non-Catholic commentators makes me wonder if they really understand Catholicism in their unspoken and unacknowledged hope that the next pontiff will lead the Catholic Church toward a more Protestant “look.”…needless to say the next pope will not bring the kind of “reforms” that will make the Catholic Church look more Protestant, mainline or otherwise. Who will be the next pope? I have no idea, but I think it is safe to say that he will not come from the ranks of the world’s Protestant bishops. I know that seems obvious, but after my last couple of days of reading the thoughts of some, I just felt the need to say it. ”

    http://www.allanbevere.com/2013/02/the-next-pope-will-not-be-protestant.html#more

  • Mark Edward

    Big votes from me on 3, 5, and 6. Number 7 would be good to keep in mind (though why not an African, Asian, or Australian pope?), but I don’t see why it should need to be a criteria.

    OH WAIT.

    The next one has to be Italian (or Israeli?): Petrus Romanus cometh!

  • http://www.krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    I just want to point out that it will be the Cardinals and not the Cubs who pick the next Pope. ;-)

  • Scot McKnight

    Michael, Yes, it will be a Cardinal. Will it also be a Yankee?

  • http://catholicbibles.blogspot.com Timothy

    He will definitely be a Padre.

  • Greg Metzger

    I’m saddened that people seem to assume Ben’s list is “unCatholic”. I see and read many Catholics who would say much the same as Ben has, if with different words. Ben is on firmer Catholic ground than se are crediting him with, though many current Cardinals would disagree. But you could easily find many Catholic leaders from the last century who would say much the same as Ben.

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark

    It goes without saying (although I’m just about to say it, anyway) that Ben Witherington’s comments are offered in all sincerity and good faith. To be convinced of that you need go no further than to read Ben’s review of Benedict’s first volume re Jesus of Nazareth: The Pope’s New Book. Nevertheless, while I’m in sympathy with much of what he says re choosing a new pope, I’m afraid that he’s off the mark in a number of respects. Let me cite two:

    2) If you can find someone who is as good and critical a thinker and theolog as Pope Benedict, by all means pick that person;

    Before endorsing Benedict’s theology, I highly recommend going into it in detail. It’s by no means an easy undertaking, but might lead to some second thoughts re the type of pope you might want to see. For example, here are three critical reflections re Benedict’s thought in general:

    Cardinal Ratzinger On Europe’s Crisis of Culture

    Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The 1988 Erasmus Lecture

    Benedict at Regensburg

    3) … the option of a priest to be married … would probably reduce the danger of pederasty considerably.

    While I’m somewhat open to the idea of married clergy (they exist, of course, in non-Latin rites as well as in the Anglican Use), there have been well documented studies that show that celibacy has little to do with pederasty–that it occurs at an as great or even greater rate among married clergy. Ben’s recommendation re “accountability structures” is more to the point, IMO.

    5) Pick someone who is prepared to continue the process of weeding out superstitious practices and inessential ideas. For example, the recent dropping of the expectation that a good Catholic ought to believe in limbo is a good thing. In short, a more Biblically focused faith, and one less steeped in traditions that do not comport with the Bible (for example Jesus’ descent to the dead) would be a welcome development.

    While I wholeheartedly agree re “limbo,” for example, nevertheless see #2 above re “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis.” I suggest that Benedict’s way forward for Biblical scholarship is questionable. For example, in his preface to the second volume of Jesus of Nazareth Benedict opined that “in two hundred years of exegetical work, historical-critical exegesis has already yielded its essential fruit” and that it needed to “see itself once again as a theological discipline.” That view is IMO not constructive, but does flow quite naturally from his consistently expressed opinions over the years, as well as from his philosophical presuppositions.

  • Scot McKnight

    Greg, thanks for the poke. My opening line was as much jest as serious, but 3 and 5 don’t strike me as remotely realistic in the Catholic circles of the Cardinals who are voting.

  • Robin

    It seems to me that you could elect someone who is flexible on #3 and #5, but that for any headway to actually be made on those two issues a council will have to be convened. After all, the major shifts in Catholic Theology have not happened because of Popes, but because of Councils who were not opposed by their popes.

  • TJJ

    I think the leadership of the Catholic Church did not really know what direction they wanted to go after John Paul, hence the more/less caretaker old man Pope, Benedict last time.

    Not sure they know now either, but my guess is they will go younger this time. Someone in their 60s perhaps.

  • Jon Altman

    I believe John Paul II was 59 when he was elected in 1978

  • Jon Altman

    John Paul II was actually 58 when he was elected. He was only 7 years older than Benedict. Part of why some still remember John Paul II so fondly was that he had the energy of a relatively young man for more than 15 years of his 27 year Papacy.

  • http://www.debatingobama.blogspot.com Gregmetzger

    Scot, it wasn’t just your opening but some of the comments as well that kind of pushed me. I agree with you in terms of 3 and 5 in particular, though I would urge people to learn more about Cardinal Schoborn, a major figure in the Catholic Church and outside possibility as Pope. I would also urge a reading of the late Cardinal Dulles who even on points like 3 and 5 had interesting things to say. Peace.

  • http://www.debatingobama.blogspot.com Gregmetzger

    For what it is worth, I have put together some of my thoughts on the upcoming election, with a particular focus on the issues of clergy sexual abuse and the Vatican’s response to it. I think it is a much more powerful dynamic than many realize because of the diverse views of two of the key cardinals. Here is my post:
    http://debatingobama.blogspot.com/2013/02/cardinal-schonborn-and-vaticans-moral.html

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark

    Re possible new popes, I’m not a bettor, but it does seem to me that Cardinal Ouellet, a Canadian, has a number of things going for him.

    1. He seems to be generally well regarded, speaks a lot of languages, knows a fair amount of theology.

    2. He’s not Italian, and I suspect there is a general feeling that after the latest Vatican Bank scandals (which may have had something to do with Benedict’s resignation) the rest of the Church is not interested in an Italian pope.

    3. He’s not European, and I think there’s also a general feeling that Europe needs to listen to the rest of the world Church, rather than attempt to lead.

    4. He’s not American.

    Not an endorsement, just sayin’ he’s one to watch at this point.

  • andrew

    don’t let it be an australian. as an australian, our only cardinal lacks the intellectual rigour to lead the catholic church.

    it’d be nice if the pope and the catholic church stopped letting tradition trump scriptures, and if God was prayed to directly rather than through a panoply of mediators. then again, if that happened, they’d be lutheran, and that’s not going to happen.

    Looking at all my extended family and school friends who are catholic, it boils down to (as Horton coined the phrase) moralistic therapeutic deism. they just have different outfits for the priests than the mega-church operators, and the accretions of years of tradition.

  • Chas

    Though I am no longer Catholic but I still have great interest in the faith expression of my early years and keep up with current events and thought related to Catholicism. I agree with Ben that Catholicism is much in need of shedding some of her inessential, tradition-based beliefs and moving toward those that are more Biblically grounded. Rightly practiced tradition is not bad, but hyper-important traditionalism can be suffocating.
    Allowing priests to marry? Now is the time. This change can help the church in several important ways while not violating any true tradition or Biblical command.
    The new Pope should IMO also elevate the practice of good homiletics. The teaching ministry of the Word is woefully lacking in most Catholic parishes.

  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark

    don’t let it be an australian. as an australian, our only cardinal lacks the intellectual rigour to lead the catholic church.

    I agree. I’ve been reading Tracey Rowland’s Ratzinger’s Faith. Rowland is as fatuous as I expected, but Pell wrote the Forward and I was taken aback at how foolish he came across.


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