An American pope?

Could the next pope come from the United States?
Associated Press
Feb 17, 2013

 

Conventional wisdom holds that no one from the United States could be elected pope, that the superpower has more than enough worldly influence without an American in the seat of St. Peter.

But after Pope Benedict XVI's extraordinary abdication, church analysts are wondering whether old assumptions still apply, including whether the idea of a U.S. pontiff remains off the table.

Benedict himself has set a tone for change with his dramatic personal example. He is the first pontiff in six centuries to step down. Church leaders and canon lawyers are scrambling to resolve a litany of dilemmas they had never anticipated, such as scheduling a conclave without a funeral first and choosing a title for a former pope.

The conclaves that created the last two pontificates had already upended one tradition: Polish-born Pope John Paul II ended 455 years of Italian papacies with his surprise selection in 1978. Benedict, born in Bavaria, was the first German pope since the 11th century.

"With the election of John Paul, with the election of Benedict, one wonders if the former boundaries seem not to have any more credibility," New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said, discussing Benedict's decision this week at SiriusXM's "The Catholic Channel."

The election also follows a pontificate that featured Americans in unusually prominent roles.

Cardinal William Levada, the former San Francisco archbishop, was the first U.S. prelate to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's powerful guardian of doctrine. Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former St. Louis archbishop, is the first American to lead the Vatican supreme court. And Benedict appointed others from the U.S. to handle some of his most pressing concerns, including rebuilding ties with breakaway Catholic traditionalists and overseeing the church's response to clergy abuse cases worldwide.

But as Christopher Bellitto, a historian at Kean University in New Jersey who studies the papacy, said, "There's a big difference between letting somebody borrow the car and handing them the keys."

"The American church," he said, "comes with a lot of baggage."

Among the negatives is the clergy sex abuse scandal, which has affected every U.S. diocese and bishop.

The 11 U.S. cardinals expected to vote in the conclave will include Cardinal Roger Mahony, the former Los Angeles archbishop who was recently stripped of public duties by his successor over his record on handling abuse cases. Also attending will be Cardinal Justin Rigali, who stepped down as Philadelphia archbishop after a landmark indictment of priests revealed he had kept several clergy on assignment despite claims they molested children.

The cardinals are also struggling against the perception, held particularly by Europeans, that most Americans aren't sophisticated enough to handle the papacy. In a faith 2,000 years old, the United States is considered relatively new ground. Europe was still sending missionaries to the U.S. to create the church through the early 1900s.

Popes are also expected to be multilingual, or to at minimum speak Italian fluently. Dolan, considered to have one of the highest profiles in the U.S. church, speaks only halting Italian and a little Spanish, but no French or Latin. He led the North American Seminary in Rome, a kind of West Point for American priests, but has never worked in a Vatican office.

"There really never has been any American who rises above his American-ness and holds the esteem of the international group of cardinals because of his service, because of what he's done for the church," said Brother Charles Hilken, a historian at Saint Mary's College of California, who has studied the papacy.

Beyond the qualities of individual candidates, the cardinals take church history into account.

The church has tried to keep the papacy separate from a reigning superpower for centuries, whether the Holy Roman Empire, France or Spain, according to the Rev. Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church." When France captured the papacy, the nation moved the seat to Avignon in 1309 and kept it there for seven decades.

But the role of the United States in the world today is what weighs most heavily against a American pope. The Vatican navigates complex diplomatic relations within the Muslim world, in China over the state-backed church, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and beyond. An American pope could be perceived as acting in the interests of the United States instead of Catholics.

"That would be enough of a concern for enough cardinals to make them leery about voting for an otherwise good American candidate," Hilken said. "These men come from places. They're citizens of other countries of the world."

Despite all these factors, Dolan is being mentioned in some church circles as a potential — albeit longshot — choice. Round and quick to joke about his size, he is an ebullient and approachable representative of the church who is a strong speaker and is known in Rome. "He's the bear-hug bishop," Bellitto said.

Dolan already was part of one upset election: In a surprise 2010 vote, his fellow church leaders chose him over the expected victor as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was the first time in the history of the conference that the man serving as sitting vice president was on the ballot for president and lost.

 

Comments

princedenny

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Remarks that discriminate based on age, race, religion, disability, etc. and Libel and defamation.

grandmasgirl

Why do some of you have to bring this up constantly. Not every priest is a pedophile, just as every cop isn't crooked. Just as every coach isn't looking for a "good time" with his boys. I understand that it happened. Did it happen to you? Is that why you bring it up? Or is it just that you hate catholic's? There must be a reason.

ladydye_5

It is the fact the CATHOLIC church covered it up. THey moved and HID the priests guilty of it. THey HELPED hide it. No not every priest is a pedophile. But, the bishops and cardinals that HIDE it make it seem like they allow it and are ok with it. Just keep moving it around. Kinda like the catholic church is ok with hiding pedophiles and molesters, but against birth control! HA that is a joke. TOO many catholics try to be superior to others and judge them, all the while they should be looking in the mirror.

grandmasgirl

I was going to make some remark about being like the government, but then decided that no matter what I would say, some people will never understand that THE CHURCH did not hide the abusers. Just because some people are corrupt doesn't mean that everyone is. Some of you will never get it.

ladydye_5

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights), Remarks that discriminate based on age, race, religion, disability, etc., and Libel and defamation.

happycamper01

The catholic church is not a cult. I was raised catholic. Am I still catholic? Well, that is what I identify with but I am not all that religious. Was I raised to feel better than anyone else? Or that my religion was the best? I don't feel that I was. Do I feel like that now? No. I am not brainwashed and none of my "fellow" catholics are either. Many catholics want reform. Many want the priests that abused children in prison, as well as the ones who covered it up. Many catholics believe in and practice birth control, as well as other things things the church does not believe in such as divorce from violent or horrible situations. I have never sat in a catholic church only to hear the priest say if you are not catholic you are going to hell but I have been to churches that do say that such as the Church of Christ, Southern Baptist, and Pentecostal. Every church has their own agenda, practice their own interpretation of the bible, and expect their members to follow it. The Amish may be considered a cult by some. They shun those who leave and members must believe and follow what the bishops tell them without question. The cover up abuse and feel that if they shun those who abuse for a few weeks they have been punished and forgiven. Not true. No catholics feel that praying absolves anyone from sins. We do not have the power to forgive sins. Priests have the power through God only in confession but it does not absolve anyone from having to stand before a criminal court to answer to crimes they have committed. Catholics do not feel we are above the law. The Amish do feel that way many times but even they are starting to come around and having their own punished for assaults (beard cutting but it is a shame they care more about their hair than the physical, sexual, and mental abuse of their children). Who are you to say how we as catholics feel about what happened with the sexual abuse cover up? Are you catholic? We catholics do not condone it. We believe those who committed the crimes should answer to the criminal courts and to God. However, we are willing to keep it in perspective. Those who abused should go to prison but our religion will survive and go on healthier, stronger, and safer. But don't you ever tell me what I or other catholics were taught or believe because you don't know. You only spout off what you were taught or come to believe. And there are priests that have answered to their crimes in prison. Not all of them got away with their criminal acts back in the days when much abuse was covered up not only only sexual abuse by priests but domestic violence of battered women and child abuse at the hands of fathers. People should never tell anyone what they think or know. You assume too much and you know what that makes you. No group of people were more outraged at the abuse and the cover up within the catholic religion than it's members. If you want to believe something then believe that.

richrs

@happycamper1,
from one Catholic to another: Well Said!

grandmasgirl

Thank you for explaining it so much better than I did. Great comment.

shucks

: \

The Big Dog's back

winnie!

shucks

Pope Dope
(why do you call him winnie?)

The Big Dog's back

He used to go by the name winston smith.

shucks

Ha Ha Ha !!!

Sounds like a sissy.

Do you know if it's real or user name ? Probably user.

The Big Dog's back

user.

shucks
The Big Dog's back

That's him. LOL

Pterocarya frax...

Read the book "1984". It will all become clear.

shucks
kURTje

Dog & shizzle...someone said here, "I ain't a Christain." Watch me get the delete......those stinkin facts.

shucks

where? when?

The Big Dog's back

This was a couple of months ago when winnie said that.

shucks

OK, thanks

goofus

Wow, the venom spewing by name calling and pure unadulterated hate of a fellow human being is a sight to behold. Only from the mouths of the great unwashed left. A man who has refrained from opining on this topic is so hated and attacked by the left is truly a piece of work!!!! Congratulations guys, your true feelings and hatred have surfaced!!

The Big Dog's back

Thanks goof. :)

shucks

Awww... shut up.

goofus

What an intelligent response from an all knowing leftist!!!

coasterfan

Anybody have any idea what set goofus off on his latest rant? Dude, please refill your Xanax Rx, stat!!!

shucks

Just the posts here and running out of meds.

kURTje

Hey..fact. It was a quote. Now you hate that? geez. Double standard?

happycamper01

There will not likely be an American Pope anytime soon. An American Pope would yield too much worldly power.

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