Home Editorial Popularity’s not the point in choosing the next pope


Popularity’s not the point in choosing the next pope Print E-mail
Written by Lou Jacquet   
Friday, 15 February 2013 10:58

The stunning news on Feb. 11 that Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to resign effective Feb. 28 came as such a surprise that apparently only a handful of individuals in the Vatican itself knew the announcement was coming.



As word of the decision flashed around the globe, networks and news outlets assembled pundits to pontificate, if you will, on the state of the papacy and the pontiff’s decision to resign, a first in some 600 years.


With few exceptions, most of the commentators were unable to add either heat or light to the discussion. Perhaps the silliest was the “talking head” on CNN who asked a Vatican spokesperson, “Do you think the cardinals will be able to come up with someone more popular than Benedict?”


Ah, popularity. That, along with being telegenic, is the true benchmark the Church should be seeking in its next leader, no? Forget a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ as the Lord of life; forget finding a man whose prayer life can sustain him through the absurd pressures the modern world puts on the shoulders of the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics. Away with any need to discern a fearless, decisive defender of the Faith and its 2,000 years of accumulated wisdom and priceless spiritual treasures. Away with discerning the promptings of the Holy Spirit during the conclave.


These days, media pundits assure anyone who will listen, the cardinals who gather should focus on finding a candidate for the papacy with enough charisma and panache to satisfy the world’s craving for celebrity, someone who can toss off a bon mot with the reporters who trail him around the world. Other pundits have suggested that the cardinals “elect a pope who can appeal to youth this time,” apparently forgetting that millions of young people prayed, sang and worshipped with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI at their World Youth Day events.


What the pundits and perhaps not a few within the Church itself want, of course, what they so desperately desire, is a Church and a papacy that would abandon all moral standards and buy into the “anything goes in every realm of human endeavor” mentality that the post-modern thinkers would have us embrace.


They want a pontiff, to be specific, who will accommodate the Church’s teachings to fit their own agenda and the secular culture’s morality-free views on marriage, sexuality without commitment or responsibility, the “freedom” to take the life of the child in your own womb, and more. They would wish for a Church that has always stood for something beautiful and eternal to endorse their positions so that we would, in effect, now stand for nothing. This the Church will never do.


It must be especially challenging to be the pope in an era when some of the Church’s most vocal and persistent critics sniping at the Holy Father’s every comment are Catholics themselves. Perhaps the greatest challenge to Catholicism lies not with poorly-informed members of the secular media on CNN and elsewhere, but with well-educated persons within the Church who could never find a good word to say about a pope who possessed a long list of academic and publishing achievements they can never begin to approach themselves.


Fortunately, when the satellite towers at CNN and elsewhere have crumbled into dust 50 or a hundred or more years from now, the successors of St. Peter will continue to lead the one church that has brought the Good News of salvation to the world in every age. Christ himself told us that this church would prevail. His words are the Church’s greatest source of hope and strength in the face of the drumbeat of negativity about all things Catholic that one finds everywhere in the world around us today, and never more so than when the resignation of a pope makes history.


Choosing a candidate for the papacy on the basis of personal appeal? Be serious. We might recall that a certain Galilean preacher didn’t rate too high on the popularity charts in his era. But the message that He brought has endured and prospered down through the ages, changing untold millions of lives in the process.


As Benedict heads into a time of monastic prayer and rest, he well deserves his forthcoming eternal reward for tirelessly carrying out the work of an apostle despite obstacles that might well have overwhelmed even Peter himself. 


— Lou Jacquet/Editor


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