The New Pope: Should We Speculate?

Some Catholics have been upset at the speculation going on about the new Pope. This speculation, we’re told, goes against the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit will choose the next pope not you! You are not a cardinal!!”

Right. OK. I understand. However, this criticism betrays a lack of understanding in how the Holy Spirit works. The Spirit is not some sort of extraterrestrial who zooms down to whisper in the cardinals’ ears in the Sistine Chapel. The Holy Spirit works in and through and with the whole church–saints and sinners alike. The Holy Spirit infuses the whole church–all 1.2 billion Catholics. The speculation and discussion and interest is all part of the process. Some of it good and educated, some of it biased and bigoted, but all of it part of the fascinating and wonderful mix of the church.

Brandon Vogt has pointed out that Pope Benedict himself had this to say about the process. When he was asked, “Does the Holy Spirit choose the Pope?” he replied,

“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.

At this stage it is legitimate for everyone to speak their mind, to discuss and debate. I agree that this process should not be a matter of campaigning for a particular candidate, nor should people make some vain attempt to influence the vote in any way. It would be impossible to do so even if we wanted to. In saying this, however, it is perfectly valid to discuss the different possibilities and envision a possible future, while still admitting that our ideas and visions of the future are just that–only one person’s opinion.

Most of all it is important that the cardinals themselves do their research, learn as much as they can about their brother cardinals, pray, pray, pray, and then get on that plane for Rome in hopeful and joyful anticipation. As they do this research, reading the press and hearing what the people of God are saying, and listening to what an unbelieving world is saying is one part of their listening process.

In a few weeks the cardinals will gather, and will be locked into the Sistine Chapel and the whole process will come to a climax and conclusion. Then we will have a new pope. At that point it is up to the faithful to thank God for his guidance and rally around the new pontiff with joy and hope for the future.

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  • Nathan

    It goes back to a basic Catholic principal, grace perfects nature – it doesn’t override it or destroy it. It’s similar to the inspiration of the Scriptures, God didn’t use the human authors as we would a pen, but gave them the grace to perfect their human writing to contain what we wanted written down. Great post, Father.

  • Lynda

    Speculation, in general, is not prudent or of any good. Prudent discussion and expression of hope, etc. is fine, in moderation. Today, being Ash Wednesday, penitence is our main occupation, including for Pope Benedict and his successor.

  • Patrick A. O’Flynn

    The history of the papacy clearly shows that the Holy Spirit does not pick the Pope, since there have been a number of “bad popes” — Alexander VI comes to mind. The Holy Spirit, however, does guard the Church, as Jesus promised; so that even “bad popes” can not err in pronouncing on matters of faith or morals, no matter how evil or corrupt they personally might be. Now we do not want another “bad pope,” so it behoves us to pray and fast for the Holy Spirit to inspire the electors and give them the grace to be open to His inspiration. Pray the Rosary asking the Blessed Mother, the Mother of our Church, to intercede with her Son for the graces that we need. “Jesus I trust in you.”

  • veritas

    We must remember that, regardless of who we think should or should not occupy the Chair of Peter, the Church is ultimately in God’s hands.

    One of the beautiful promises of Our Blessed Lord, for the Church built on the rock of Peter, was that “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

  • Mary

    God uses politics and always has. Even in the beginning of the church, from the apostals jockeying for position next to our Lord to the election of bishops or deals being made in backrooms. Compare Acts and Galations about that synod St. Paul had with the early church. You will see the official church story in Acts, then the behind the scenes story in Galations. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth but it is the truth and who am I to judge God’s methods?

    God uses politics and man to do His work. You know that old saying, “…man proposes, God disposes…” lot of truth there Patrick. Because a pope was a bad pope does not mean the Holy Spirit was not involved with his selection. We can never know what would have been if another was elected, and do not discount the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the Church. It is always there.

    Politics are and always have been in the Church, but most of us dont have to dirty our hands. Most of us can simply keep ourselves to our own job. The job of the laity in this situation is prayer for those that do have to get into that part of it. Pray for them to be guided. We can wonder and speculate at this point, but most importantly we should pray for those who must make the decision.

    It would be a nice thing to add an extra prayer for the current pope. He is still pope at this moment and I am certain he needs our prayers.

    PS as always when I am “texting” without a proper keyboard I am subject to typos…. my appologies for any typos.

  • Christian

    Jesus Himself picked his own motley crew, Judas among them…are the Popes any worse a lot than those 12?

  • Osservatrice Romana

    Speculation about succession is in bad taste if a pope’s life is on the line because it trivializes the prospect of his death. But once he’s gone back to the Father or, as in this case, announced his retirement, there is no harm in wondering about it. I think it’s worse to make a fetish of the Holy Spirit, as if it were the absolutely transcendent God of the Islamic faith whose “will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality” to quote Benedict XVI at Regensburg.

  • Mary

    Ya know, he didn’t actually retire… I keep hearing it said he retired…but that is not what happened. After the 28th he won’t be retired pope Benedict XVI, he will go back to his “maiden name” and title. This matters. It is not like an expresident or something. There can not be 2 popes, which is why he did not retire …popes cant really retire. So sad…he apparently planned this from the beginning. He reputeated his office.

  • rosie

    I don’t think most of us know what we’re talking about when it comes to this job!

    But a Pope of Mary’s preparation??

    (messages shared by locutionist’s spiritual advisor, Monsignor Esseff, a former spiritual advisor to Mother Theresa and who himself was guided by Padre Pio)

  • Woody

    I fear that I, as a Man of the Right (pace Whitaker Chambers), will not be so happy with the outcome of the Conclave. For those like me, and others such as converst who have known only Benedict as their Holy Father, it will be time to learn how to be “Romans”, to practice Romanita, as in this excerpt from Malachi Martin: “Romanita rests upon one basic principle: Cunctando regitur mundus. If you can outwait all, you can rule all. The hallmark of romanita is understatement in action and in all forms of expression. It is, in a way, a power in whispers. Esstential to it are a sense of timing reamed with patience, a ruthlessness that excludes the hesitation of emotions, and an almost messianic conviction of ultimate success. Few are born with it. Most genuine ‘Romans’ who flourish must learn it over time.”

  • blue

    It looks like they (italian syndicate) vote for the pope..not the holy spirit
    look at the numerous Italian popes that has been voted over the history,
    and some have been very bad popes..sorry..but it has to be said

  • Mary

    Woody, the largest percentage of those voting were either put into their position by the current pope or the one before. Most are conservative. I dont think you will have to worry about too much change. I kinda doubt the next pope will be from any non-eurpoean country and really would not be surprised to find him to be Italian. It is about time the Italians had a pope again as the last two were non-Italian. These things tend to run in cycles you know. This will be the 7th pope of my lifetime and memory.

  • flo

    Truat God’s word. The bark of Peter will never go down. Rem. the Catholic church was established by Christ and He will see it through. God’s teachings, the Word of God will never change. Church teachings will never change no matter what Pope leads. Christ said,” Upon this rock(Peter, I will build my church, and the powers of hell will not prevail agains against it” . The Catholic church is the one true church.

  • Ken

    If he chooses the “same name” as St. Pius X prophecised… well, we’re in for a wild ride.

  • CharlesG

    I think it will be Scola.

  • Anita

    I think the Holy Spirit does not necessarily pick the Pope in a direct way, but rather He guides the Cardinals in the voting process. That is why they usually vote a few times before coming to the correct decision. Just like our own decisions to follow our faith more closely, comes of our own free will, given to us by God. But then when we make the right faith decision it is usually guided by the Lord Himself. So it is the same with picking the Pope that God would have in that position.

  • Clerks, C

    Yes, the popes are….fallible

  • rick

    Father if this is 100% truth. May I respectfully asked you what have happened in those times in history in our church where we have had really bad Popes?

  • Joe

    This is perhaps the one article I have read on this that is spiritual in nature compared to most others I’ve read on this. I am one of the ones where I see things in the media that inflame me about the conclave that is yet to be and what may or may not come of it.

    I see many speak of the intent of the cardinals as if choosing the next Pontiff is some social thing or something based on leadership as it is in the western world. In the western world, leadership is more of a social driven event based on who can agree to what in the absence of logic, reason, or anything sound in lieu of what merely appears to be. The choosing of a Pontiff does not work in the same ways as the Pontiff is a leader in the spiritual sense, and no other. This is something that the world doesn’t seem to understand! So many assume that this has everything to do with something except for spiritualism-and that of which what we as Catholics believe to be a process guided by God Himself and the Holy Spirit.

    I do like the analogy given on how the Bible was written. It reminds me of the homily of an old priest from a long time ago. This teaching I think is nearly verbatim of that of the Third Vatican Council being that it is not the works of men, but it is in fact the divine word of God. It is God who wrote the Bible. He chose those men as His instruments to write it. As such, I think perhaps it might be fair to say, it is He who chooses the next Pontiff-or at least the attributes that he has. It is the cardinals, the princes of His church that are His instruments that will choose whomever this will be.

    Having said that, I will say this. Even the local bishop in the news sounded ominous as to the conclave and whomever is picked next. I know of the buzz surrounding what has been said by many from centuries ago. Personally, I fear for this next pope, and I pray for him and the cardinals too. I can’t imagine with the importance of this process, and what many believe will be, there must be a sense or burden and perhaps fear on many.

    It appears that perhaps this conclave is a cross that the cardinals must bare. I pray for them on that, and I say we all should do the same and pray for whomever is picked! I fear the cross of this next pope will be perhaps the heaviest of any before him! Maybe I am wrong on that, but this is my concern.

    On a happier and more personal note, this is the second time in which a pope has vacated his position, and in the process due to circumstances attributable or surrounding these things, it has helped me both in spirit and mind. When John Paul II died, it helped me come to terms with the passing of my grandfather to whom I had medical power of attorney over. I had to make a final and heart wrenching decision when I knew I could do no more. The passing and certain medical circumstances of John Paul II were like that of my grandfather. I found peace there as past a certain point, no one could contribute anything of benefit to reverse things nor did anyone do anything to perpetuate the inevitable. It never dawned on me that my grandfather had symptoms like that of sepsis-which happened to John Paul II; both died from a UTI.

    In the case of Benedict, he is resigning as he feels it is what is right to do given whatever he has examined in his own conscious. He had his calling by God to which he has followed. Now, for whatever reason(s), he doesn’t feel this is his calling, so to make things right, he feels he should go. This is his decision-and I have no reason to suspect it’s unethical, wrong, immoral, or anything objectionable.

    In my own life, I too acted on a calling from an experience. I too followed it-but at the last minute I too had to back out. In my case, I did a lot of soul searching, and I felt that to continue, I would have to act in a manner that in some ways for what I set out to do was not in accordance with the Gospel. I could not proclaim to help someone medically, shut up, look the other way and take a paycheck when I knew better. So, I figured it’s better to help someone because you want to without limitations and forget the money than appear to be of help with it.

    I had struggled to this day wondering if I had done something wrong or my thinking was wrong. Then, I heard the news of Benedict stepping down. He too followed his calling and did what he felt was right. Now the time has come where he feels for whatever reason, it’s not right for him to be there as he is for much longer. Like Benedict, I did my own soul searching, and acted accordingly. If I draw a parallel to my experience to his in some manner-which has helped bring some closure to me.

    How ironic and maybe not too coincidentally that the vacating of two popes (through death or anything else) lived their lives in such a way such that at the end of their time as being a pontiff, I could find something of help to me in my own personal life-twice in a row.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    The really bad popes chose to do evil–just like you and I do despite the fact that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    The pope is infallible but not impeccable

  • Mary

    When speaking of Church Dogma, the pope is infallible. That is not an everyday occurrance.

    Most Protestants do not understand what the infallibility of the pope means. It does NOT mean he is always right and correct in everything he says and does. If he were to say chocolate is the only flavor of ice cream to eat….that would not be a matter of infallibility but of personal opinion.

    The pope is protected from error when he is officially speaking as pope about matters of dogma necessary to belief.

    This is fairly rare and you will find the popes always agree on certain matters, because matters of dogma are protected by the Holy Spirit. Or at least that is my understanding. I could have a wrong understanding, but I think that is a correct explanation.

    So have there been men who were pope, who were sinners? Of course! “… All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…” Most, however, are very Godly men. Do not focus on the few bad apples or you will be misled.

    Correction please?

  • joseph

    Here is my speculation-
    Italians will be out after a couple of days, because of all the rivalries amongst them.
    That will leave the field open for 4 continents-
    A european , it could be the Vienna cardinal.
    Then of course the african Cardinal Turkman
    The Latin americans have the Brasilian Pedro Scherer as their best candidate.
    The only North-american possibility is Canadian Marc Oullet.
    This Conclave could take a long time – but I think it will come down to 2 men with similar names:
    Schoenborn and Scherer ; they are both brilliant !

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  • John A.

    The book of Revelation tells us that the next pope will be the last pope and he will be the second beast in chapter 13 (false prophet). The catholic church is the “great whore” in chapter 17 and God’s judgement will be upon her. Now is the time to repent and “come out of her”. (Rev. 18:4)

  • Mary

    Cardinal Bertone is in place to be elected… Unless the last scandal did him in that is. The last 2 popes have been grooming him.

  • joseph

    John A – St. Paul refers to the Church as the Bride of Christ , very different from a harlot. You must have been listening to Irving Baxter’s radio talk, about the next Pope being the false prophet. This is an old theory that never has come true. Beware of the grave sin Christ mentioned- “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (the spirit of Truth). Just wait a month and you will see that the next Pope is a holy and brave man, who may well have to fight against the ‘false prophet’.

  • Br. Robert Anthony

    In the history of the church, there have been several Popes who have claimed the papacy at the same time. But, what if the opposite were to happen; that is, what if the conclave that meets to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, splits (e.g., liberal versus conservative) and is unable to elect a new pope. Is that possible; and, has it ever happened before?

  • Mary

    Not a likely possibility Br. Anthony.

    If you look at the make up of the voting cardinals you will find the conservatives have a large majority. Also the Italians are something in number like 67, again a majority. The deck is stacked and all will vote as moved by the Holy Spirit, to the best of their knowledge, just a conservative is not as likely to think the Holy Spirit is moving him to vote for a liberal. Each will vote their conscience, but the majority are conservative and it is somewhat heavy with Italians right now.

    There have been times it was “stuck” which is why they have certain rules to help things along. Conclaves have a lot of history and experience. Last one only took 4 rounds of voting, if I remember right. I expect this one to also be swift. Of course I could be wrong and only time will tell. They are changing a small rule though and moving the conclave up time wise. Reason being no one has to make funeral arrangements, etc. Very sensible, as they want it a done thing before Holy Week starts. Holy Week will start with new pope. :-)

  • Mary

    Correction: Italians and other Europeans make up the majority. Most of whom are conservative. 23 were appointed fairly recently(?) I think… deck is stacked

  • joseph

    Cardinal Bertone is 78 , they are not going to elect a man that old.

  • adele young

    Well stated Father…infallibility regarding faith and morals is not impeccability regarding
    personal behavior and personal opinion.
    A very apt distinction on the heels of Clerks-C

  • Mary

    Probably correct on that Joseph, but it is the same age the current pope was in 2005 when elected…. I still think it will be an Italian though. One too young also carries problems in that they really dont want a very, very long term either. They might pick one around 65-70 and several Italians fit that bill. Maybe the cardinal from Milan???

  • adele young

    @Rosie….I live in the same diocese as Monsignor Esseff and have attended his healing mass(s) at our parish church. I know many, many people, including priests, who hold him in the highest esteem. I know he
    has a website for spiritual direction, etc. but I have NEVER heard before your comment above about
    this locutor or the messages given and this is right here going on in my diocese. I am overwhelmed by
    what you have shared….and will try to find further information. Meantime, can you offer any more?

  • Mary

    What about Cardinal Giuseppe Betori of Florence? Is he too young to be a serious contender, do you think? He is 65 and seems to be a very conservative Cardinal.

    Wonder why he is not in the list of possibilities mentioned anywhere, that I have seen.

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  • Donald

    The Saint Malachy prophecies are what someone called them–full of Malarchy! Actually if you listened to Teresa Tomeo on Ash Wednesday you would know that they have been proved to be forgeries. Even if Peter Cardinal Erdo is selected, it would not prove St Malachy’s prophecy to be
    correct . Additionally Yves Dupont’s book on Catholic Prophecy contians a lot of specualtion which might seem to indicate that he was writing about the immediate time—but if you read some of
    Diane Moczar’s Seven Lies with the Dupont book you will be able to see that the prophecies Dupont discussed that were written between 700 and 1000 actually foretold the Avignon Papacy and the Great Western Schism

  • Bob Rowland

    No one can know the mind of the Holy Spirit, but we do know that the Church is in infallible hands.

  • Barry Duke

    Here is a great blog post on the subject

    A Message To The College Of Cardinals From The Holy Spirit

    I don’t know how you’re going to pick the new guy. I don’t care how you’re going to pick the new guy. Puff the white smoke, don’t puff the white smoke, it makes absolutely no difference. I refuse to be a part of this, this – I want to say train wreck, obviously, but at least train wrecks have the decency to stop at some point.

    Flip a coin, play Monopoly, try competitive teabagging… however you select the new pontiff, I want everyone reading this to understand that I, the breath of the Almighty, the small still voice of Yahweh, the third distinct Holy Person in the mystical entity known to the faithful as the Triune God, will play absolutely no role in this purple freak show.

    This should surprise no one. Anybody following the Charlie-Sheen-porn-family you people have become will probably not even shrug at this announcement. It’s difficult to find a Cardinal who doesn’t resemble Keyser Söze in drag. Pick the spiritual leader of millions? Most of you guys are lucky you’re not in prison.

  • Mary

    Goblinbooks-All Things Dark… well the name of your recommended blog certainly explains your message and who it comes from Barry!

    I doubt the spirit speaking from a blog site named All Things Dark is the Holy Spirit, but I do not doubt it is a spirit. And it pretty much says where it comes from in the name of the blog.

  • Mary

    Oh, I would consider it a compliment that they did a feature article on you Fr. Longenecker. Guess you have poed the powers of darkness…who call themselves “Free thinkers”

    You must be doing something right, if you irritated the dark ones minions… LOL :-) They are spewing their venom at you! Take it as a compliment, because you must be doing something right.

  • Mary Myers

    Perhaps we should not speculate on who the new Pope will be, but I can’t help but wish for a simple, holy bishop to be chosen–one like Bishop Alexander Sample, the young bishop of Marquette, newly named to be the Bishop of Portland, OR.

  • John D.

    I agree, the best thing we can do is Pray and Fast, especially The Holy Rosary.

  • John D.

    You have a Great misunderstanding of Revelations. Please disregard Your own nieve interpretations!

  • Mary

    Speculation as is being done at this point and in this situation, no one died ya know, is a bit like when the family gathers, in joyful excitment, at the hospital as a new baby is being born. Will it be a boy? Or a girl???? (Used to not know that in advance) Will it look like grandma Grace or prehaps like old uncle Paul? There is nothing wrong with this type (non-campaigning) of joyful speculation. Should we be praying about it? Of course, but who says prayer can not be a joyful thing too!

    God has already told us the ending you know, it is only the particulars we don’t know. The barque of Peter will always be safe…the gates of hell can not stand against the Church, etc…so be joyful!

  • Anne

    I would like to see either Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza or Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith elected but it is ultimately in Gods hands who is elected. There are also many others that I know nothing about. It would be great if there had been a website profiling each Cardinal in detail to help us get to know the Cardinals in our Church. We must pray to the Lord for a good and holy Pope who will also have great courage and a deep personal relationship with Jesus as Benedict XVI had, to help all of us in these difficult days. He will have a heavy Cross to carry that is for sure.