The scholar popes
How John Paul II and Benedict XVI changed their office

Pope Benedict XVI by Jeffrey Bruno / Shutterstock.com

Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful in Saint Peters Square on the occasion of the Beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011 in Vatican City, Rome.

Article Highlights

  • Speculation about Pope Benedict’s successor has focused on nationality, race, and geography.

    Tweet This

  • The next Pope most likely, will not be American. The Catholic Church is a worldwide institution with European roots.

    Tweet This

  • Approaching papal elections as an Olympic sport, with teams of bishops, obscures a lot of what’s important about them.

    Tweet This

  • John Paul and Benedict were intellectuals. They also had more pastoral experience than the post–World War I popes.

    Tweet This

In the days since Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will step down at the end of February, speculation about his successor has obsessed about nationality, race, and geography. Are we about to see the first African pope? Or the first American one?

The answer to that second question is probably “No.” The Catholic Church is a worldwide institution with European roots and a population increasingly drawn from the “global South” (what used to be called the “Third World”). Both Europe and the global South think that the United States controls enough of the world as it is. This sentiment can be found even among people who generally think well of us. It seems likely that most of the cardinals of the Church share it.

Approaching papal elections as an Olympic sport, with national teams of bishops, obscures a lot of what’s important about them. This is true even when nationality is important. When John Paul II was selected, a great deal of attention was paid, understandably, to the fact that he was the first Polish pope ever and the first non-Italian in centuries. The selection of Benedict XVI, a German, made for a non-Italian streak, which was again widely noted. Fewer people noticed that these two popes had no experience in the Vatican diplomatic corps, as every pope from 1914 to 1978 had. John Paul and Benedict were intellectuals — indeed, academics — unlike their predecessors. They also had more pastoral experience than the post–World War I popes.

The full text of this article is available by subscription to National Review.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Ramesh
Ponnuru
  • A senior editor for National Review, where he has covered national politics and public policy for 18 years, Ponnuru is also a columnist for Bloomberg View. A prolific writer, he is the author of a monograph about Japanese industrial policy and a book about American politics and the sanctity of human life. At AEI, Ponnuru examines the future of conservatism, with particular attention to health care, economic policy, and constitutionalism.


    BOOKS:



    • "The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life," Regnery Publishing, 2006



    • "The Mystery of Japanese Growth," AEI Press, 1995



    Follow Ramesh Ponnuru on Twitter.
  • Email: ramesh.ponnuru@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image Recovering from tax time blues
image 10 welfare reform lessons
image Let HHS nominee Sylvia Burwell explain Obamacare lie
image Why bold ideas backfire in politics
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 14
    MON
  • 15
    TUE
  • 16
    WED
  • 17
    THU
  • 18
    FRI
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Calling treason by its name: A conversation with Liam Fox

Join us at AEI as the Right Honorable Liam Fox sits down with Marc Thiessen to discuss and debate whether America’s intelligence agencies have infringed on the personal privacy of US citizens.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The curmudgeon's guide to getting ahead

How can young people succeed in workplaces dominated by curmudgeons who are judging their every move? At this AEI book event, bestselling author and social scientist Charles Murray will offer indispensable advice for navigating the workplace, getting ahead, and living a fulfilling life.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.