Thu 30th Oct 2014 | Last updated: Thu 30th Oct 2014 at 15:58pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

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. 

  • Paul_David

    It´s really irrelevant where the next Pope is from. All I want is a holy Pontiff who is faithful to the Magisterium and a good Shephard for the flock. He can be from Mars for all I care.

  • Yankee

    Some qualities an American Pope could bring to the Papacy; 1st, we generally detest bureaucracy and an American could help streamline the Church to become more effective as an organization as opposed to the lethargic Italian style bureaucracy they have now. 2nd, Americans like clarity in communication and the type of abstract, difficult to understand & translate, communications that have gone on in the Vatican in the past would not fit the style of an American Pope. 3rd, Some one like Cardinal Dolan could bring some tough Donald Trump style “you’re fired” to all the Judases and traitors within.

  • Mark

    Let’s say “you’re fired” to Vincent Nichols…

  • Benedict Carter

    Please God no!

    The American Church is in a truly shocking state and the very last thing we need is an American Pope. 

    Dolan, for instance, the grinning buffoon who probably got Obama reelected? 

    Many of the heresies infecting the global church in our days have come from the American Church. The homosexual mafia is totally entrenched in most American Chanceries. The record of the American Bishops and Cardinals on moral questions has been absolutely atrocious these last fifty years. 

    We most definitely need a Hammer of the Heretics, but such a man won’t come from the USA. 

  • Frbramwell

    With great respect to Card O’Malley – Please no American Pope. The American Church is missing most of the people it is meant to be serving. Is this style of evangelization that we want to take on the road? Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI

  • Charles

     The problem with the American church is that it sees its mission/purpose as an instrument of social justice rather than an instrument of actual Catholicism; that’s why it tolerates and even supports the Left Wing Democratic Party. Raymond Burke would be a better choice than Dolan btw.

  • Dave

    Dolan responsible for getting Obama reelected? That may be the most asinine thing that I’ve read today.

  • Laurence England

    Isn’t it time for a Hong Kong Pope?

  • Jack

    I hope that Cardinal Burke will be elected to the See of Peter, if nothing else he is young (at 68) and doesn’t have any truck with catholite politicians 

  • thanks

    should politics and cultural hegemony come into play,post-war attempts by the USA to manipulate Italian elections and impose the American way of life through cinema and music etc would make a Stateside candidate less appealing.

  • Romulus

    I sincerely doubt whether many American cardinals have the linguistic skills to serve as bishop of Rimini, let alone Rome.  Of their liturgical and catechetical instincts, the less said, the better.  And you foreigners are so cute when you imagine our yankee prelates as models of efficiency, just because they’re American.

  • athelstane

    The American Church is hardly in as bad a shape as the Church in E&W, Benedict…

    In fact, I’d say it’s in better shape now, in terms of bishops, than almost any other church in the West. Alas, so few of the best men have red hats as of yet. Burke is the only one I’d really want to see – the kind of man you have in mind as a hammer – but I think he has too many enemies to have any real shot.  

  • Kevin

    “an American Pope would mean the Catholic Church being seen as aligned to the West”

    I hope that kind of thinking never did and never will influence the election of a pope, even if it did unfortunately seem to influence the thinking of a pope when he visited Britain in 1982.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    Kevin you may be surprised to learn that the election of popes has often been explicitly influenced by politics. Until as recently as 1903 the political rulers of Spain, France, and Austria exercised the “jus exclusivae”, the right to veto the appointment of a candidate for the papacy whom they did not like. We would almost certainly not have had Guiseppe Sarto as Pius X if it were not for the veto by the Emperor Franz Josef of Mariano Rampolla, because of Rampolla’s support for France.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    How many of the American cardinals have fluent Italian? Perhaps some of the more ambitious ones could surprise you. I remember not long after the assasination attempt on Pope John Paul II that Cardinal Hume began taking Italian lessons “just in case”.

  • Mccjacker

    Amen….also someone deeply deeply committed to ensuring everybody can know and connect to Jesus Christ the Lord.

  • Mccjacker

    Unfortunately I think the Americans are lousy at reforming and loust at evangelizing regardless of how the smile and bellylaugh.

  • Nathan

    There is at least one American who would be an excellent pope - Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke.  He is the current Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and an expert canon lawyer.  He is extremely intelligent, very wise and prudent, fearless in preaching the truth even when it is hostile, yet he is supremely humble and charitable.  He was the Archbishop of St. Louis prior to being named to the Tribunal and was not afraid to apply the Church’s discipline to those who persisted in manifest grave sin, excommunicating some hostile members of a local parish board and two women who attempted to receive holy orders despite his admonition not to stage the event.  He is a living saint, in my opinion.
    May it please the Holy Spirit to name him our next pope!

  • Charles Martel

     Yes, Benedict. Like you I was put off by the photo, but surely Cardinal Burke would be acceptable?

  • Parasum

     That can doubtless be arranged – If NASA & ESA can stump up the cash for a trip to Mars.

  • Sweetjae

    Look at this guy again making fun of Cardinal-a Successor of the Apostles! Look at yourself first ,maybe there’s a GIANT LOG in your eyes. What is it this time the good Cardinal did to you and haven’t agree with?

    I live in America and what you say is just not true, a gross exaggeration similarly found in the liberal media.

  • Parasum

      It’s time for a Scot. Forget England – they’ve had their go; ditto the Greeks, Syrians, & Continentals.

  • Sweetjae

    There you go, spot on! European Christians are vanishing faster than any continent, secular agendas started in the Scandinavian region spreading like wildfire that engulfs Britain, now France. Read the Book of Revelation where God abandoned places that once Christian, the likes of Turkey, once a bastion of Christianity, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria etc. because they have forgotten God, now sadly, it’s Europe’s turn. Don’t blame the Popes nor the Church for the mess in your own backyard Mr. Carter.

  • Sweetjae

    My take is a simple, humble and really care about the poor, Cardinal from the Philippines, Archbishop Tagle.

  • Jeannine

    The only reason that your ideas about American bishops may be true is because of the laity that works or volunteers for them. Without them most American bishops are inept except theologically.

  • Jeannine

    The only reason that your ideas about American bishops may be true is because of the laity that works or volunteers for them. Without them most American bishops are inept except theologically.

  • Jeannine

    Cardinal Burke would never be elected; he is perceived as being too divisive.

  • Thomaspj Poovathinkal

    Let us HOPE, PRAY and WORK for a POPE who will give FIRST PLACE for the PROCLAMATION OF THE WORD OF GOD.
    Jesus said to them  “Let us go to other villages also. I have to proclaim the Word to them also. It is for this that I have come”
    His disciples wanted him to get lost in  SOCIAL WORK.

    To Proclaim the Word like Jesus and his Apostles, we need to be apostles first and for this we need to PRAY day in  and day out
    to the Lord to EMPOWER us through his HOLY SPIRIT.

    In the PRIMITIVE CHURCH every Christian was an APOSTLE. Because of this THE SPIRIT OF JESUS made the CHURCH grow.

    Any one who made himself worthy of JESUS THE LORD by acting on what he had said  :”If any wants follow me , let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”, He, JESUS THE LORD promoted to APOSTLESHIP, like for example the 72 disciples disciples, the young man whom Jesus called and who told him, “Let me first go and bury my father”. But Jesus told him, “No. Let the dead bury their own dead as for you come and PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD”.


    Jesus had called Mary Magdalene TO BE AN APOSTLE”,  whom Pope John Paul called, “APOSTLE TO THE APOSTLES”.
    What about the Samaritan Woman?

    IF WE  his followers DON’T FOLLOW JESUS  IN THE SPIRIT HE DEMANDED OF US…………………, EVIL will CONQUER US, just like it has conquered EUROPE and the the CHURCH there which was lead not by APOSTLES but by LEADERS who were THEMSELVES EVIL.

    There should be no place in the CHURCH for LEADERS and BISHOPS AND THE LIKE BUT APOSTLES.



  • Jeannine

    Let me start off by saying that I have never read Canon Law. So I am going out on a limb by asking the question: Why can’t a pope appoint a lay person or 2 with proper managerial power to help him clean up the Roman Curia, at least the administrative end of it? The laity have a better history in streamlining bureaucracies to run efficiently & transparently. How about sisters? Even they have run businesses, departments & like (hospitals, orphanages….) with efficiency.

  • JabbaPapa

    Such lay persons already exist at the Holy See.

    And canon law permits, BTW, the election to the Papacy of any Catholic in good standing ; clergy, religious, or laity ; though in practice, the great likelihood is that one of the current Cardinals will be elected.

  • JabbaPapa

    European Christians are vanishing faster than any continent

    erm — although the trend has slowed down, the truth is that there is a movement of growth (albeit very slow growth) of Catholicism in European youth. 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 — and the highly secularist propaganda of the French and UK Governments has also become increasingly anti-Catholic — but the trend in Europe remains a resurgence of faithful Catholic identity among our youth, as is evidenced every time the WYD is held on the Old Continent…

    The crisis in priestly vocations is a separate problem, and one that is directly influenced by contraceptionist propaganda and the sexual revolution.

  • Gordis85

    I beg to differ sir. I am an American and yes, while the Church here has been rocked with scandal, well, the same can be said of the Church in England but….but…we are all united under the One Shepherd and must pray for the conversion and salvation of all. I will not lose hope that the Church in America will be cleansed and renewed. I cannot waste time putting her down when she is so wounded and in need of her children’s prayers.
    Our new Holy Father, whoever he will be, has much to do and I am hoping, like our current beloved Papa Benedicto, he will reply with all of his heart and with all of his strength, on the power of the promise our Lord made to St. Peter… “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” 
    It is uncharitable to call Cardinal Dolan “a grinning buffoon who probably got Obama elected.” I think you do yourself a disservice to have judged him so harshly as he is a fine and holy priest. I have followed him since his days as Rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. 
    He has been a strong voice in defending our religious liberties against Obama’s intention to coerce the Catholic Church in America to capitulate into doing his will through the HHS Mandate.

  • Gordis85

    I can say the same for England…no one there will ever be elected Pope either so in that sense we are even.

  • I_M_Forman

    If there were to be an American Pope it would be great if it was Raymond Cardinal Burke. He has made enemies? Good! Then he stood for something in his life!

  • Sweetjae

    Though I agree with you about the cause of lost of Faith in Europe but you are delusional to say the trend is slowing down, in fact, secularism is on an ever high gear engulfing every European nation exempting very few countries with strong faith, you know who they are and they’re not Britain, Germany nor France.

  • Sweetjae

    Right though incomplete. If a non-bishop (laity, priest, deacon) were elected as Pope, he would have to be ordained as bishop before taking the throne, for the Pope is also the Bishop of Rome.

  • Benedict Carter

    Because of Rampolla’s membership of a Masonic Lodge. 

  • Sweetjae


  • Sweetjae

    Nonsense, we have more orthodox Bishops today than Britain with the likes of Archbishops Chaput, Burke, Bruskewisz etc. anytime of the day.

  • Peter

    The biggest heresy in the Church, the greatest buffoonery, the deepest infection and the most absolute atrociousness, is pride, thinking oneself a better Catholic than the other.

  • Paul_David

    “Please God no! The American Church is in a truly shocking state and the very last thing we need is an American Pope.” – let´s just let God decide rather than each of us preaching who should or shouldn´t be Pope.

  • Prof. Plumb

    I agree the time has come to drop this wacky idea that a pope can’t be American. So long as a man is orthodox and – hopefully – kind, it doesn’t matter where he comes from. The idea that an American would be favourable to all things western in nonsense.

    Imagine, if in the days of the cold war, a cardinal from behind the iron curtain was elected pope. I wonder if he would have been favourable to Soviet bloc interests…

  • adam

    i agree too, that it is certianly time to drop this veto stuff about having an American pope. Indeed if an American were elected pope, he would be a good cardinal whom the other cardinals believed is the man for the times. As Father has pointed out in the article, both John Paul I and II were surprises. I was in Rome when JPI died and I had seen him at a general audience. He was so good with children there and he spoke without a script. He was refreshing and warm. I remember quite vividly walking in St Peters when JPI’s body was lying there to be seen and a cardinal in a black soutane and cape walked past me in a huried fashion. It was the-about-to-be next Pope, Karol. He was alone and had come to pay his respects. About a week later I was under the loggia as the new pope came out – the man from Poland. All those around me had no clue as to who he was. He was a suprise.
    I hope the March conclave brings us a surprise and the bookies are confounded and the world will sit up and be shocked. And he needs to get in there, reform the Curia and lead the Church with strength and holiness. It will be hard with a former pope still in the Vatican, even if he is ‘in hiding’. But how hidden can you be when everyone knows your new home and where you are!
    The leaders in the field that the media likes to favour, will Not be elected. Turkson and Arinze will not be elected. Turkson is now seen as too ambitious and his recent statements are too up front. He has made his case too obvious and will have alienated many. No, it will not be him. But watch for the South American from Sao Paolo and the young 55yr old from Manila.
    Conclaves have a way of revealing what we all do not know and do not expect. It is the choice of 117 men in red and I hope they surprise us all. But when Dolan appears on the balcony after the conclave as the new John XXIV, then we will all be surprised and in shock and awe.

  • LocutusOP

    It is unfortunate that the Pope did not stay long enough to appoint Archbishop Chaput as cardinal. I don’t know much about Cardinal Burke, but I have been distinctly unimpressed by Cardinal Dolan.

    Nonetheless, I wish we would refrain from turning the conclave into some sort of beauty pageant, where it’s this region’s or that region’s turn to win.

    All faithful Catholics want is a firm Pope, who will embrace the good and chastise the bad in equal measure – what we used to call evangelisation.

  • Adam

    and only recently, in the early 19th century a monk became pope who became Gregory XVI. He was not a cardinal. So it can happen. And if it could happen 200 years ago, a short time time in church history, anything can happen now. Under 70 cardinals voted to elect John XXIII in 1958 and theuy were all conservatives. And look who they elected. SO watch the loggia on st Peter’s come mid March after ballot number 14 !!!!

  • South Saxon

    Would you add Cardinal O’Malley to that list?

  • Jeannine

    Chaput is still needed in the USA. There’s still alot of mess to clean up especially in Philadelphia Archdiocese.

  • AndrewO

    Gregory XVI WAS a cardinal at the time of his election, just not yet a bishop. The last non-Cardinal to be elected was in the 14th century.

  • Thomaspj Poovathinkal

    THE NEW POPE can be from any nation, culture or colour, BUT he must follow the The Lord in THE SPIRIT OF THE 12 APOSTLES – THE HOLY SPIRIT, and the LORD himself will conquer the world, the people of the world THROUGH the Proclamation of OF HIS WORD. For this we all need to PRAY unitl it is accomplished. Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • Seguidora

    A Vatican observer recently said that the Church was full of gossiping eunuchs, and that they would come to the fore now that there is a new conclave. This article and your previous ones concerning the identity of the new Pope just serve to confirm this. Stop speculating and gossiping; we will know soon enough.