Pope of your dreams
Max Lindeman - Phoenix Catholic Examiner
My right-leaning Protestant friends have just about had it with Pope Benedict. As though mourning a son who's dropped out of firefighting school, they wail that he showed such promise early on, when he declared homosexuality to be intrinsically disordered. Sure, he was always a little soft on the Mexicans, they admit, but they were prepared to give him a pass. Being a foreigner himself, he probably didn't know any better. But ever since he failed to dispatch the Swiss Guard to drive President Obama from the Notre Dame podium, he's been out of their prayers for good.
That's right: the same people who long ago dismissed John McCain as a RINO, or Republican In Name Only, are prepared to write off His Holiness as a SPINO, a Supreme Pontiff In Name Only.
"They should have picked that other black guy," one friend told me, referring to Nigerian-born Francis Cardinal Arinze, a papabile at the 2005 conclave. "He could have gone all Larry Elder on him."
It may come as a surprise that non-Catholics should ever have invested such high hopes in any pope, but some have done just that. Thanks to his stances against abortion and Communism, John Paul II won a great many fans among the American Right. With his own reputation as a doctrinal hardliner, Benedict inherited that good will without contest. Baptists and non-denominational Christians may have rejected them both as Christ's vicar on earth, but they accepted them as spokesmen for the cause, a pair of Rush Limbaughs in slippers.
But now these new fans feel betrayed. They haven't left the papacy; the papacy has left them. It's easy to understand their frustration. For anyone who came by his ideas of leadership observing American politicians and pundits, the pope's role and style must look pretty strange. In the name of inter-denominational understanding, I've prepared this quick primer on papal protocol. Hopefully, it will placate Benedict's critics to the point where they'll call off the hunt for his birth certificate.
Popes don't do snark
Oh, they can, all right. When serving as papal nuncio in France, the future Pope John XXIII once remarked that whenever a woman showed cleavage at an important ecclesiastical function, people looked not at her, but at him, to gauge his reaction. But few have used snark as a rhetorical weapon of first resort. When Stalin sneered, "How many divisions does the pope have?" Pius XII could have sneered back, "Being pope is just like being general secretary of the Communist Party -- except a pope has real responsibilities!" Only he didn't.
Popes don't make personal enemies
Actually, this rule emerged only after a long, grinding process of trial and error. Certain popes have jumped at the chance to go bare-knuckle with anyone -- layman or cleric, living or dead -- who got on their nerves. Sometimes it went well, as when John I of England tapped out against Innocent III, and became a papal vassal. Sometimes it went badly, as when Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, having completed his penance at Canossa, raised an army to depose Gregory VII, the pope who had assigned it to him. But after Garibaldi's troops captured Rome and annexed the Papal States, the fix was in: future popes would have to be kinder and gentler than their predecessors, whether they liked it or not.
For popes, a little flip-flopping is a good thing
In January of this year, Pope Benedict lifted a twenty-year-old excommunication ban on four conservative clerics who had been ordained bishops without Vatican permission. Great, the world thought. Nothing like a big tent. Then it emerged that one of the bishops, British-born Nelson Williamson, a man of great faith but apparently very little reason, denied both that the Nazis had gassed Jews during World War Two, and that Muslims had attacked the Twin Towers on 9/11. Following protests from the German, Austrian and Israeli governments, the pope announced he would not permit Williamson to assume his episcopal responsibilities until he repudiated his controversial views. The about-face went over well, with no talk of Benedict alienating the base for the sake of the Euroweenies, or of Williamson ending up under the bus.
Popes can lack the common touch
This point can be overstated. If the Pew Research Institute ever bothered to poll Catholics on such things, we'd probably learn that John Paul II's guitar playing boosted his numbers, just as John XXIII's country-boy roots boosted his. But deep down, all Catholics are elitists. We understand that our leaders will have attended school for at least twenty years, speak four or more languages (including a couple of dead ones), and appear publicly in gold-embroidered dresses. If they spend their spare time chopping down the trees around Castel Gandolfo, great.
If not, we love them anyway.
Really, I get it. The desire to see one's own tastes and values reflected in high places is natural. Each of has a pope of his dreams. Mine would beatify Mickey Mantle, or at least Thurman Munson. To those whose ideal pontiff would tell the crowds at St. Peter's to go in peace and watch Gran Torino, I say, pray on it. And have someone check the voting machines at the next conclave.