Choosing a New Pope Isn't a Political Campaign

The media is warping the upcoming selection of a new pope into something resembling a Western political campaign.

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Benedict XVI has made his last public appearance as Pope. Later this week the papal apartments will be sealed as the process of selecting the new leader of the world's millions of Roman Catholics begins.

The selection of a new pope resembles a royal wedding or a coronation. The pomp and pageantry make it attractive even to those who are not members of the faith. In the life of the world, however, it is far more meaningful because the pope, unlike contemporary European monarchs who are essentially symbols of authority, has real—even absolute—power.

It is unfortunate that the scandalous behavior of some of the prelates in the American branch of the Church over the last few decades has brought down into the realm of the ordinary what was once a mysterious, majestic rite of succession. The impact of their misdeeds is still being felt, to the Church's detriment. Moreover, it has opened the door for secular ugliness, turning the new pope's election into something resembling a campaign for Western political office, complete with the drama, the back story, the "preferred" candidates, front runners, dark horses, and just about everything except a thorough explanation of Benedict's papacy in a religious context.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

The editorial notes to reporters probably emphasize talking about Benedict and the election of his successor in modern political and media terms, which means go long on scandal and short on common sense. Explain what his years on the throne of St. Peter meant for and to the more than one billion Catholics around the world in terms of meaningful religious accomplishments and changes to the church as it battles other encroaching faiths, including the faith that is disbelief? Sorry, not enough time.

Actually, that's a cop out. The lack of serious inquiry into the doctrinal and organizational issues the next Holy Roman pontiff must confront reflects the ignorance of the commentariat about religion in general. To the extent they have any understanding at all comes from an affinity for if not outright agreement with the political outcomes arising from positions taken by what Woody Allen jokingly referred to in one of his movies as the prochoice, antinuclear, anti-prayer-in-school wing of the Catholic Church.

It is not beyond reasonable to suggest, as a few other commentators have, that the major media currently on the story thinks it can affect the selection of the next Pope. The Vatican has certainly expressed that opinion through its own media spokesman. Nevertheless it is undeniable that the media is playing favorites based on the way various candidates for the job are talked up or talked down, sort of like in last year's U.S. presidential election. 

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Should the New Pope Be From the Third World?]

This, in and of itself, is not new. Those who have followed these events for some time remember the impact the mainstream media had in the years following "Vatican II" by cherry-picking its message and spinning in favor of what the liberal wing of the Church wanted to do. Now the Catholic Church is in the crosshairs, meaning a lot of non-Catholics believe the can influence just who the Church hierarchy picks for the job—which shows how little they understand about the Church or about the election.

One can be forgiven for thinking that there are commentators and scholars and thinkers and writers whose real objective is to try and find a Pope who will bring Church teachings into line with what many American Catholics believe them to be. To flashback again to the 2012 presidential race, the objective is to find a pope who is more like Vice President Joe Biden and less like Rep. Paul Ryan. As with anything else the left wants, in a pinch a white liberal will do just fine.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

This is particularly important on issues like abortion, gay marriage, immigration, nuclear arms, and care for the poor (but not universal healthcare) are concerned. Why is so little attention paid to the idea that the next pope might be a black African or a Hispanic from Latin America?

As attractive as the idea of a nonwhite pope might be to the Western cultural and intellectual elites secular world, the fact that Africa, and Central and South America are two places where the Church is both growing and, one might say, "rock solid" on the basic, settled issues regarding life, questions about human sexuality, and other so-called hot button issues. The potential risks of getting "the wrong guy" are just too high to make much of the idea beyond an interesting notion.

To actually do this would mean gaining an unimpeachable ally for the international left's political objectives in the United States and throughout Europe—although it would have very little to do with the mission of the Church universal. 

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