By the time you read this, the world’s billion-plus Roman Catholics have a new pope — Pope Francis I. And when the black smoke of the March 12 indecisive first vote has turned to the white smoke of final decision March 13, it should not be a surprise that the cardinals have chosen … a Catholic pope.
After the election of Benedict XVI in 2005, I wrote that the cardinals had correctly ignored the desires of some people to install a wimpish equivocator willing to bend with the winds of compromise. I believe the cardinals showed the same wisdom in 2013.
In other words, the cardinals chose someone who can remain faithful to his creed and his office, a true Catholic in all respects.
Some dissidents think the Church needs to become relevant by embracing all modern codes of conduct, but the Church will remain relevant where it really counts only if it retains its core principles. When the world is in adrift in turmoil, the answer is not more turmoil.
For example, abortion is no less evil today than it was in 2005; the need to protect life is no less compelling. The world will always need a place for rock-solid affirmation that life matters.
For those Catholics who don’t like the idea of a Catholic pope, there is an answer. It’s called the Episcopal Church, and every Catholic Church in the United States should have a map showing the location of the nearest Episcopal church.
There, dissident Catholics will find homosexual bishops, lesbian priests, sanctions for abortion, the unfettered right to divorce and all those other practices the Catholic Church forbids under pain of mortal sin. It is the church that can’t say no. Dissidents will be very comfortable there.
Does the Catholic Church have problems to solve? Yes, it does.
The child-abuse scandal must be dealt with unequivocally. The new pope will also have to quell dysfunction within the Vatican’s central bureaucracy, the Curia. Some cardinals were thought to be frontrunners for the papacy based on their management skills, although I believe the Church needs more than a manager — it needs a leader.
There is also the matter of re-energizing the faithful. I won’t deny that a higher level of energy would be a good thing; after all, Pope Benedict did retire because he realized he could no longer serve due to “lack of strength of mind and body.”
I believe the Church will find a pope who can manage its bureaucracy and provide the energy to excel as a transformational world leader, as did John Paul II.
The new pope need not be transformational in the sense that doctrine should change, but transformational in finding new ways to make the wisdom and relevance of Church doctrine understood by all, and attractive to those who have not yet found a home for their innate faith.
Let’s pray that Pope Francis is that leader.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant, and the author of “The New Reagan Revolution” (St. Martin’s Press). He is the founder of the email service reagan.com and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his websites at www.reagan.com and www.michaelereagan.com. Send comments to [email protected]