Who will be the next pope?

Religion, spirituality, and sacrilege.
April 1 2005 6:00 PM

Papal Chase

Will the next pope be black, Hispanic, American, a Jew?

(Continued from Page 1)

Ah, but what an exquisite dilemma for liberals. A black pope who, on social issues, makes Phyllis Schlafly seem like Jane Fonda. In a commencement address this year at Georgetown University, Arinze drew protests by saying the institution of marriage is "mocked by homosexuality." If he did become pope and liberals criticized his antigay, anti-abortion views, could conservatives possibly resist the temptation to charge racism? Might be too much to ask.

It's also possible that, deep down, though they wouldn't admit as much publicly, cardinals might fear that the selection of a black pope would alienate some white Catholics. But the biggest strike against him is that the African church, while growing rapidly, is still too young, especially compared to the church in Latin America.

Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga
Country: Honduras
Age: 62
Assets: Latin American. Friend of Bono.
Liabilities: Compared media to Hitler. Too young.

"There's a feeling that it's Latin America's turn," says Tom Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America. It's not just that there are more Catholics there than any other continent—it's a competitive battleground, with Pentecostals chipping away at Catholic market share.

So far, there's no consensus on a Latin American candidate, but the one most often mentioned is Rodriguez, formerly head of the Latin American Bishops group. He's been a strong opponent of Third World debt and an advocate for the church's antipoverty mission. He teamed up with U2's Bono to present a petition at the G-8 meeting in 1999, signed by 17 million people, asking for debt relief.

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David Gibson, author of The Coming Catholic Church (and also of a forthcoming book on the papal election), describes Rodriguez's assets: "A ployglot, media-savvy Latin American who knows everyone in the College and would represent a powerful statement on behalf of the huge and poverty-stricken Latin American church, as well as the rest of the developing world." John Allen adds that Rodriguez is also a supporter of decentralization, which may be the most important factor of all.

One problem may be his comments that press coverage of the pedophile-priest scandal reflects anti-Catholic views of Ted Turner and other media moguls. "Only in this fashion can I explain the ferocity [in the press] that reminds me of the times of Nero and Diocletian, and more recently, of Stalin and Hitler," he said.

Jean-Marie Lustiger
Country: France (Archbishop of Paris)
Age: 79
Assets: Jewish? Shore up Old Europe Christendom.
Liabilities: Jewish! Too old.

Lustiger's mother, a Jew, was killed at Auschwitz. If the cardinals wanted to generate excitement in Europe, choosing Lustiger sure would be a dramatic way to do it.

Do Jews consider him Jewish? Technically, yes. As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Jewish Literacy, said, "According to Jewish law, a person born to a Jewish mother is Jewish, and being Jewish is not something a person can renounce. However … the Jewish community does not normally relate to such a person as a Jew."

Lustiger is, Telushkin says, popular with Parisian Jews, but other pundits feel that many Jews would be outraged if he were chosen. "Electing him would be a disaster for Catholic-Jewish relations," says Reese. "Some Jews would see this as the church putting him up as an example of what Jews should do."

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