The Case for an African Pontiff

…according to Fr. Dwight Longenecker.

I sort of regard speculation about papal elections the way I do talking about the weather. My views will have no impact whatsoever on the outcome and it’s basically all up to the Holy Spirit. I can give God input via my prayers, I s’pose. But mostly those are of the “Send us somebody good” variety, not of the “Father, in review the list of candidates, I would strongly advise Peter Turkson” variety since I don’t know a thing about any of the papabile and I really like it that way.

That’s not to say I think there’s any problem with speculations, Pope pools, and all the rest of it. Part of the fun of life for us peons who don’t have much control over Big Huge World Historical Decisions is placing bets on how it will all shake out. My only counsel is “Don’t worry about it.” Or rather, Jesus’ counsel is not to worry. Fr. Dwight isn’t worried, so I say, “Opine away, padre!”

For myself, I don’t really care where the next Pope is from, so long as he’s good. An African suits me fine if that’s who the Holy Spirit picks. I would enjoy watching all the “anybody who criticizes Obama is racist” people blow a gasket just as much as I would enjoy watching the “Catholicism is European” people blow their gaskets. So that would be fun. On the other hand, I have nothing invested in the *hope* for pope from a developing nation either and think that electing one primarily on the basis of ethnicity would be a spectacularly bad idea. I got the vague impression last week that Turkson was, well, sort of campaigning for Pope in the media, which made me think, “Nope. Not that guy.” But that’s just me. Ultimately, it’s up to the Holy Spirit.

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  • Tweenie

    “I would enjoy watching all the “anybody who criticizes Obama is racist” people blow a gasket”

    That would be fun. 🙂 Unfortunately, I doubt it would work that way, certainly not in the long run. Much like the reaction of feminists when Margaret Thatcher was elected in the UK, I would guess an African pope would have to be an African with the ‘correct’ sort of views in order to get an easy ride from the MSM.

    • The Deuce

      Oh, the media would come down extra hard on him because of his race, once their shock wore off. It would have the benefit of exposing who they are

  • vox borealis

    and it’s basically all up to the Holy Spirit…if that’s who the Holy Spirit picks.

    Not trying to be persnickety, but I was under the impression the Holy Spirit did not pick the popes, but only protects whoever is picked—good or bad—from making theological error.

    • Subsistent

      Good point here, I think. Not that a pope could not make a theologic error in a non-definitive statement, but that no ex-cathedra pronouncement will ever be erroneous (altho maybe it could be somewhat badly worded — overly technical, overly polemical, unduly vague, etc.).

    • Rosemarie


      If the cardinals all prayed fervently for it, I don’t see why the Holy Spirit wouldn’t gently guide them to pick the best candidate. Such divine guidance might not be otherwise infallibly ensured, though, which could be why we’ve had some substandard popes in the past.

  • Personally a Chinese pope would interest me from a historical perspective. I’m kinda bummed I wasn’t born to experience the big shake up of JP II’s election….
    But as you said a good man is all I’m praying for.

    • I think a Chinese pope would be as challenging as a Polish pope was a few decades ago, and for exactly the same reasons. It would likely be the end of the PRC under its current governing system and hopefully the end of their one child policy nonsense.

  • Thibaud

    You are completely right. I read a few articles on the papabile and now I have one name that would bum me out if said by Cardinal Tauran (the man who will announce the name of the new Pope, unless he is himself elected) and 2 or 3 that I would enjoy hearing. I think that’s already too much, I should go back to asking the Holy Spirit to send us a good Pope and to not take into account my half-assed judgement on the cardinals based on 2 articles I read on the Internet.

  • William

    Vox is correct. “Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response: I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined. Then the clincher: There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!”

    • With all due respect to the once and future Cardinal, perhaps the Holy Spirit goes with the lesser evil….

      • DTMcCameron

        Considering that the office could be held by any adult Catholic male (in good standing?) there are some cases where just about anyone would have been a better pick.

        Then again, the thing hasn’t been totally ruined, inviting us to be humble and to trust in God.

      • Chris-2-4

        “A vote for anyone besides Turkson is a vote for Mahoney!” 🙂

        • Hee! Thanks for the laugh, I needed it today!

        • Stu

          Bunch of Cardinals “wasting” their votes.

          • Margaret

            Remarkable bird, the Cardinal. Beautiful plumage.

  • William

    And my money is on (not literally) Cardinal Tagle from the Philippines. An amazing man. Even if not elected pope, I am so glad I heard of him because of the upcoming election. Check him out on youtube.

  • CJ

    Scherer or Oullet. But since I’m not Catholic, my opinion matter even less. 🙂

    • Mark Shea

      You never know. God hears the prayers of non-Catholics too.

  • ivan_the_mad

    I’ve always enjoyed the discussions and speculation on the papabile because it introduces cardinals from all over the world. They frequently have not uninteresting biographies, especially those that hail from countries that have experienced persecution or long-standing social strife.

    I like Father’s article and analysis, it is very optimistic. I hope that whomever is elected will fulfil some of Father’s hopes.

  • James

    I wonder if the first papal resignation in 600 years won’t give the cardinals some freedom to think outside the box…literally…and elect the first non-cardinal in about as many years. I have no ‘gnostic’ insights, mind you, but I’m keeping an eye on the rising young ecclesiastical star Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Patriarch (Major-Archbishop) of Kiev. A long shot, to be sure, but not out of the question. In any event, I wouldn’t limit the papabile to the members of the College of Cardinals this time around.

    • Mitch

      I too would think it would be great if Patriarch Sviatoslav was elected, he would be amazing in this election or the next. Even if this pontificate lasts 20 years Patriarch Sviatoslav would still be a rather young papabile in the next election. Another eastern patriarch to watch for is Cardinal Rai of the Maronites.

  • The Holy Spirit certainly has a role. How big of a role might depend on how many prayers the faithful are offering up. vox basically has it right, though.

  • Stu

    I really don’t like attempts to look at the Papacy like this.

    I’ll make the case the we need to be praying more for the Pope that God thinks we need rather than the “Pope” we think is needed.

    While I understand that Father, and others in the commboxes are open to what God wants when they write such things, such speculation is no different than what the secular media is doing. Skin color, nationality or other earthly concerns make no difference when God is involved.

    Please God, please send a Vicar who loves Your Son, proclaims the Truth with boldness and charity and lead us to You. And please God, please continue to bless Pope Benedict XVI now and forever.

  • DJB

    Of course the nationality, ethnicity and background of a pope make a difference. They make an enormous difference. Prelates whose experience of Christianity is exclusively European have only ever known a Church that’s aging and shrinking and butting up against secularism and dissent. This leads to Ratzinger’s, and others’, troubling insinuations of and desire for a “smaller but purer church.”

    But a prelate from Latin America or Africa will have had his faith nurtured in a vibrant, young and growing Church and will see the contemporary world as an exciting new mission opportunity, rather than something to give up on.

    The pope is more than just a doll with a string that you pull to hear doctrinal pronouncements. Our backgrounds shape us in remarkable and strange ways. They absolutely matter. There are a multitude of prudential decisions the next Pontiff will be called upon to make, and the experiences he’ll bring will determine those decisions. Will he bring a siege mentality to the ministry or an optimistic one?

    • ivan_the_mad

      I’d never considered it from that angle before, but it’s certainly food for thought.

    • Subsistent

      Good points here by DJB, methinks — except for the reference to “Ratzinger’s … desire for a ‘smaller but purer church’. For from the fact that Ratzinger EXPECTED such a church, it does not follow that he DESIRED one, except insofar as it was “purer”; but not insofar as it was smaller: he himself has promoted “New Evangelization”.

      • Subsistent

        See on this, f’rinstance, Rocco Palmo’s post just yesterday (in *Whispers in the Loggia*) of a talk that Benedict gave on 25 Sept. 2011, in which his whole drift was AWAY from a settled “siege mentality”, and toward the Church’s being “fully immersed in the Redeemer’s outreach” to humans, “in filling the world with God’s word”.

  • Sam Schmitt

    I sort of regard speculation about papal elections the way I do talking about the weather. My views will have no impact whatsoever on the outcome

    Am I missing something or isn’t that the case with just about everything for any of us?

  • Kirt Higdon

    This will be the 7th Papacy in my lifetime and I have been quite happy with six of these Popes and expect to be happy with the next one. I’m praying for our Cardinals with great trust and confidence in the Holy Spirit.

  • James


    I’ll say with all charity that, just as you do not like the way some who have commented here look upon the papacy, I cannot bring myself, on the other hand, to value your conception of the papacy, looking upon the papacy as if the incumbent were God’s oracle chosen directly by the Holy Spirit.

    The Pope of Rome is not an oracle of God, he is not the vicegerent of the Almighty, he is not a mythic figure hovering somewhere between heaven and earth. The Pope is the entirely human shepherd of the Church of Jesus Christ at Rome and, by extention through historical convention, Protos of the great Patriarchs of the Church and the guardian of the deposit of the Faith for the universal Church. This first of Patriarchs is elected by men (who are not deprived of their free will by the Holy Spirit when they step into the conclave) who look at prospective candidates through many different lenses, judging them based upon many different criteria.

    It seems perfectly reasonable to me, therefore, that the cardinals should take into consideration a candidate’s age, his experience of the Church and humanity based upon his geographical location, and, yes, what the papal electors imagine they would like to see in a Bishop of Rome, either based upon the Church’s apparent needs of the moment or even based upon their own personal hopes for the Church’s future. The cardinals are the Pope’s electors. If God were the Pope’s sole elector, the Church would have no use for cardinals. God could just shine a beam of light upon the man he wants to lead the Church and send a couple of angels to drape a pallium over his shoulders. But the Lord has not opted to act that way when it comes to the selection of the Church’s ministers.

    I reject the notion that God sort of looks down upon a conclave in hopes that the cardinals will pick his favorite candidate, Cardinal So-and-so, as though there is only one right choice. It seems to me that, instead, God embraces the candidate that the cardinals do elect (as he ambraces any man entrusted with a role in shepherding Christ’s flock). It is then up to the man elected to open himself up to the Lord’s embrace and allow the Holy Spirit to guide him. Of course, he will fall at times, just as Peter did, just as all popes and all bishops and all priests and all Christians of all vocations have done, because we are all only dust, the Bishop of Rome, included.

    Apart from those observations, I think it is safe to conclude from the sometimes sordid and scandalous history of the papacy that God most certainly does not handpick St. Peter’s successors. I think St. Peter was probably a one-off, in fact. In other cases wherein stellar men of God have been chosen to lead the Roman See, one should observe, not an override of human free will, but rather a wonderful cooperation with God’s inspiration, both on the part of the pope’s electors and their successful candidate.

    • vox borealis

      At the very least, if one accepts the position that Benedict XVI made a good decision because he was no longer up to the ministry of pope, then we must consider there is a very practical component to that ministry, and the cardinals would be remiss to ignore practical considerations.

      • vox borealis

        Perhaps you misunderstand my agreement with what you wrote. I was picking up on this statement, which seems very clearly to align with my follow-up:

        It seems perfectly reasonable to me, therefore, that the cardinals should take into consideration a candidate’s age, his experience of the Church and humanity based upon his geographical location, and, yes, what the papal electors imagine they would like to see in a Bishop of Rome, either based upon the Church’s apparent needs of the moment or even based upon their own personal hopes for the Church’s future.

    • Stu

      I would submit your characterization of my position is just not accurate and not even remotely.

      I say the man to lead, should be the man who will lead with a love of Christ. If he witnesses the Truth, people will respond regardless of surface issues. Leaders simply lead regardless of the followers.

      If we were somehow transported back in time and been part of a crowd with certain knowledge that Our Savior would be born soon, would we pick the man of little means from Nazareth or instead would we get caught up in Earthly concerns about nationality, social status, or other “practical” considerations. If we were the Israelites, would we pick a stutterer to lead us out of captivity?

      I pray for a Pope that God wants. That’s the best case.

      • James

        “I pray for a Pope that God wants. That’s the best case.”

        As I say, I don’t believe for a minute that God sits up in heaven with one cardinal in mind saying to himself, “he’s the one I want”, all the rest of them being the wrong choice. And so, once again, I respectfully differ with your take on the situation.

        • Stu

          Yes, we do disagree. I feel quite confident that God has a preference in such things just like He has a preference for how I conduct myself or how I answer (or unfortunately don’t) His call for me.

      • Stu

        I will add that a priest whom I admire greatly once taught us that prayer is uniting our will to that of God’s. Seems to me that such concern would be the most important thing for the Cardinal’s to consider in the Conclave. Not that they will necessarily “get it right” as we all fall short in that regard, but that such should be the focus.

  • It’s not only Catholicism that is under attack, but humanity itself. The human identity. The next Holy Father, and those after him, will have to defend those.

    God give him strength.


    We have ploughed a desert sown with salt,
    Paradise senescent, blind and gray
    And it will sterilize the fertile seed –
    Mournful country, life-repelling clay

    Glittering, which we supposed alive –
    Nothing flows across and nothing grows –
    Who will plant and harvest here again?
    Only one who knows the secret knows

    Above the clouds the sun has never ceased
    To generate a blinding mystery
    Once beheld in Zion by the priest –
    Now, he whispered, come aloft with me

    February 19, 2013

  • thomas tucker

    I think they should just draw straws.

    • Chris M

      IIRC isn’t one of the Patriarchs selected by random lot?

      • James

        “IIRC isn’t one of the Patriarchs selected by random lot?”

        You may be thinking of the Coptic Patriarch (Pope) of Alexandria. It isn’t entirely random. There is an extensive search for suitable candidates to fill the vacant see; the eligible bishops are scrutinized over the course of many weeks. Ultimately, the field is narrowed down to three bishops, any of whom would be a Pope acceptable to the entire Church. At that point, a young boy is chosen to be the final “elector”. The boy is brought to the Patriarchal cathedral, blindfolded, and asked to reach his hand into a vessel containing cards with each of the three final candidates names written on them. The bishop whose name the child picks becomes the new Patriarch of Alexandria.