One of the best-connected observers of Vatican politics, and of Roman Catholic matters generally, is Robert Moynihan, editor of the visually stunning Inside the Vatican magazine. In a recent e-mail dispatch, Dr. Moynihan suggests — based on a conversation with one of his trusted sources — that one of the most enduring elements of Vatican Conventional Wisdom may be wrong. For years, it has been said that there cannot be an American Pope, for various reasons having to do with culture and geopolitics. Moynihan hints this may be changing:
My day could not end without a conversation with an old friend, a monsignor, who is, in a manner of speaking, a “Catherine of Siena” in our time.
I have spoken with him many times over the years.
I will call him “Father Jeremiah.”
He has white hair, clear eyes, and he is a product of the preconciliar Church.
He knows the Curia well, though in recent years, he has had less intimate contact with its workings.
Still, through his circle of friends, he has access to information about upcoming documents and decisions which often proves to be quite precise. . . .
Father Jeremiah spoke to me about a particular situation in the United States, and its relation to the future of the universal Church.
“Europe is in crisis, demographically and morally,” he said to me. “For this and other reasons, it may be time, in the not-too-distant future, for an American Pope. A possible candidate will have to have had a strong formation, perhaps in one of the traditional religious orders. . . .”
Then he looked at me intently. “It may be time,” he said, “for a cappucino.”
After my post of yesterday about Cardinal Scola, a reader wrote asking me about New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan: What chance is there that he will be named a Cardinal, and what chance that he might someday become Pope? I told the reader that Dolan was a lock to become cardinal within the next 24 months, but that the culture of the Vatican made it highly unlikely that there would be an American Pope any time soon.
That there are insider rumblings on this from within Vatican circles, suggesting a change in perspective, is therefore quite interesting. Based on my own observation of Dolan (in the pulpit, on TV, and in his writings), he is both a friendly and charming man and a strong evangelizer. I could see him being quite credible as Pope. But the particular sort of American that Dr. Moynihan’s source appears to be looking for would be someone more aggressively and explicitly conservative on matters of church discipline — and that, to me, suggests Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, the archconservative former archbishop of St. Louis who is now one of the most powerful figures in the Vatican.
If the cardinals choosing the next Pope want to crack down on dissent, and a Cardinal’s being an American is no longer an obstacle to his being elected Pope, then Burke would be a very strong choice. (Many conservative Catholics object to the phrasing of a “Vatican crackdown,” which is often used by secular headline writers. But the reason they object is the quite reasonable one that there is, in reality, never a Vatican crackdown; what there tends to be is noises of vague disapproval from Rome, followed by a return to business as usual. I think a vote for Burke would be a vote for getting tough, at long last, on enforcement of church rules — for, in other words, a Vatican crackdown.)
It would actually make sense, in the light of recent history, for the cardinals to choose an American Pope, on the analogy of the election of Karol Wojtyla in 1978. At that time, the greatest world-historical threat to the church was the Communist Bloc; so they elected a Pope from within that bloc, who understood it intimately. If they decide that the greatest threat in the immediate future is the rampant secularism/Sexual Revolutionism/consumerism/Protestantism exported throughout the world by the U.S.A., an American Pope might be the one to lead that particular resistance. (If, on the other hand, they view the rise of an aggressive Muslim world as the chief threat, they might consider Cardinal Turkson of Ghana.)
Kudos to Moynihan for keeping his ear to the ground, in the Eternal (and uniquely lovely) City.