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Is it time for an American Pope?

The next pontiff, whoever he is, will have an enormous task of reforming the Roman Curia

By on Tuesday, 19 February 2013


The identity of the next Pope is now at the forefront of many people’s minds, and given the fact we now live in an age of 24 hour news coverage, Facebook and twitter, the space for speculation has certainly grown since the year when Popes John Paul I and John Paul II were elected. One thing stands out from that interesting year in my memory. I followed the news closely in the lead up to the conclaves, and at no point did anyone mention Albino Luciani (with the exception of one passing mention in Time) or Karol Wojtyla. When both men stepped out onto the balcony they did so as complete unknowns, and great surprises. Perhaps this time too the next Pope may be someone of whom we have not yet heard? There are after all 117 Cardinal electors, and not all of them, even now, will be given wall to wall coverage.

That year, 1978, the year of the three Popes, was also the year in which we heard insistently about the desirability of a Pope from the Third World. That idea is still with us: perhaps its time has come at last? But we were told another thing too: it was impossible that we could ever have an American Pope. The reasoning behind this, I seem to remember at the time, was that an American Pope would mean the Catholic Church being seen as aligned to the West, when the Church had to steer a neutral course between the West and the Soviet bloc.

At present, with the Soviet bloc being history, we are still told that we cannot have an American Pope, on the grounds that America is the world’s only superpower. Poor America, it cannot win. Only when it has sunk into total obscurity will it be able to give the world a Pope.

But why should this be the case? Who says an American can’t be Pope? Why should anyone be disqualified, or indeed qualified, by nationality?

When the See of Peter was last vacant, I was commissioned by a national newspaper to write an article on the Conclave, which was never published. But I remember saying that the first task that awaited the new Pontiff was the reform of the Roman Curia. That reform has still not been undertaken; indeed the Roman Curia seems more dysfunctional then ever. (There is a good analysis of this here.)

The task of reform is something that the new Pope, whoever he is, will not be able to put off. The pressure for reform is surely now irresistible. However, it will take great energy, and huge willpower, to cleanse the Augean stable. When I picture the enormity of the job ahead of the new Pope, I see him as the sort of man who will take no nonsense. Who is it the enemies of reform most fear, I wonder? Might it be an American Pope?

Readers interested in the nationality of Cardinals might find this list from Wikipedia of great usefulness over the coming days. 

  • LongIslandMichael


  • Sweetjae

    Because it’s based on Biblical grounds that Christ welcomes the strangers and destitutes. Anyways, the only difference between the undocumented immigrants and you is that your grandparents or their parents came in first. But don’t claim this Land of the U.S.A. is yours because we are all immigrants except the American Indians which considers all the invaders more than a bigot, if you know what I mean.

  • Sweetjae

    I agree with you completely, Cardinal Dolan probably is responsible for being complacent, a sin of omission but still we should not disrespect the Office he holds, that’s all but you are right.

  • Sweetjae

    But gun control is not related to Holy Scripture and Doctrines of the Church. I support 2nd Amendment, the right to bear arms but not automatic magazine type assault rifle.

  • Patsherratt

    Why on earth does everything have to be ‘reformed’.    The reformation initiated by Vatican II left me on the sidelines of the ‘new catholic church’ with its ‘new liturgy’.    Not every step forward is always in the right (or good) direction.    So very glad to note that you celebrate a tridentine Mass from time to time in great Gregorian and Latin style.

  • Sweetjae

    Because the Church decided that in order to be significant and communicate the Gospel message she should make herself more clear, understandable and meaningful to the ever growing complex and changing world without compromising her Doctrines and Faith.

    The same reason why the Church commissioned St. Jerome 1,700 years ago to translate the Holy Bible from Greek and Hebrew to the vernacular language of the world, Latin.

  • Ark and Dove

    The cardinals might do well to go outside of their college in choosing a pope. It they were to choose Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who recently chastised Cardinal Mahoney for his part in the coverup of clerical sexual abuse of minors, they would thereby say more clearly than with any other choice that “WE GET IT!!!” Archbishop Gomez knows American culture well. Mexico would explode with joy at the selection of this native son and all of Latin America would be lifted.

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  • rigmarole

    … and take no bull from the Curia!

  • rigmarole

    There’s a Quebecois Cardinal who might come zooming up the outside..

  • LongIslandMichael

     I was disappointed to see him backpedal just this past week on Cardinal Baloney, excuse me, I meant Cardinal Mahony. Apparently Cardinal Mahony has taken to blog writing and has stated that Archbishops move to keep him out of the conclave were unjust. Sadly it appears that Archbishop Gomez has backdown from that stance.

    See below:

  • LongIslandMichael

     You are right…gun control is not related to Holy Scripture and Doctrines of the Church and therefore he should have made no comment about it. You and I know how the liberal and their puppets love gun control. Now that Dolan has spoken out and is in agreement with them and Obama on this issue the liberals will twist it to say “see even the Catholic Church opposes the 2nd Amendment.”

  • Micha_Elyi

    The trend has certainly been hit very hard by the clerical sex abuse scandals, which has prompted many of the less faithful to abandon the Church

    Oh sure, the congregations packed the churches every Sunday – until the scandals.  Then poof they were gone.

    No, people who had already abandoned Christ simply used the scandals as their excuse.

  • Micha_Elyi

    …automatic magazine type assault rifle…

    “Automatic magazine” indeed.  I’m glad you’re not advising the U.S. bishops on their misguided dabbling in matters best reserved to the laity.

  • Gabrielle_fey

     I hope Pope Benedict only had his Head of State cap on when he did this.

  • Adrian Johnson

    By God,  Native-American Archbishop Chaput would be the Herculean Pope to cleanse the Augean stables of the  Vatican ! . . . The Cardinals are permitted to elect a Bishop if the Holy Spirit inspires them to do so. Chaput is holy, fearless, energetic, pure as a dove and wise as a serpent dealing with hypocrites in the Church.  Any Cardinal reading this, venture this suggestion in conclave?