..not an American pope.
There is speculation around the world that the time has come for an American pope. The two cardinals most often mentioned are Sean O’Malley and Timothy Dolan.
As I mentioned, I met Cardinal Sean (as he prefers to be addressed) once. This was twenty five years ago, when he was bishop of Fall River in Massachusetts. He was a very likeable man, and seemed prayerful. But an internet search found little in the way of addressing issues of justice and war, except that he did not think that war and injustice were as important as abortion in forming one’s conscience in an election. While it is certainly true that the Church unambiguously opposes abortion as an intrinsic evil and Catholics can disagree about details of policy regarding other issues (but not about principles), it is also true to anyone with eyes to see that abortion is not going to be illegal in the foreseeable future and that to base one’s vote solely upon that issue means, in an American context, not only wasting one’s vote but choosing other grave evils.
At any rate, moral and social issues other than abortion do not seem of great concern to the cardinal. And while a conclusion drawn from silence must be a tentative one, it is not unlikely that Cardinal Sean is, like most prelates, and most Catholics in this country, an Americanist.
However appealing a pope in a Franciscan habit may seem, this is no time for an Americanist pope. I can think of fewer things that would be as disastrous. We have had two successive “peace popes”, ones who publicly speculated that just war is no longer possible, given the nature of modern weapons. John Paul II, with Cardinal Ratzinger, definitively made the case that capital punishment can no longer be justified. Let us pray that the next pope will make a similar judgement regarding war. American exceptionalism is one of the great threats to world peace. A pope who believes in this deluded national illusion would be horrible for the Church and for the world, and not least for American Catholics.
But if Cardinal Sean would be bad, Cardinal Dolan would be worse.
The conclusion that he is an Americanist is not base upon his silence, but on his very words, uttered more than once, and that very publicly. His two public prayers at the national party conventions last summer were exercises in American Civil Religion of the worst sort.
While I am not one who believes that the conclave of cardinals is guaranteed to make their decision under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the presence of that Spirit is certainly among them. But the conclave is a human construct, not divinely established, and shares about as much in the charism of infallibility as the diocesan tribunal. And we all know what that has meant.
But Holy Spirit aside, one would hope, and desperately pray, that the world’s cardinals would have enough damn sense to not elect an American – and an Americanist- as pope.