Interest high in trying to determine who will be the next pope and what he will do
By Tony Staley
As cardinals prepare to open the conclave on April 18 to elect the next pope there's no shortage of advice and guesses about his identity.
Some Irish are even betting on who they think he will be. The favorites are Cards. Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan and Francis Arinze of Nigeria at 11-4 odds (a winning $4 bet would pay $15). Other early favorites are Card. Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras (9-2) Cards. Joseph Ratzinger of Germany and Claudio Hummes of Brazil (both 7-1). Card. Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico is a 25-1 longshot.
The job itself appears impossible: serving as the administrative and spiritual leader of a billion Catholics spread over every continent, speaking many languages. And while we have a oneness of belief, we also have a multiplicity of beliefs on what the church should do about various issues.
Long gone are the days when the church walked in lockstep. Of course, the idea of a large mass of people in complete agreement with their leaders, from the nuns and priests, up to the bishops, on to the cardinals and finally to the pope is itself a romantic idea that we should bury.
It's certainly not in keeping with the historical record - the four Gospels alone are proof of differences of ideas about Christ and his church and how it should be run way back in the first century. St. Paul had his disagreements with the other apostles and with his own followers.
The early centuries are replete with battles over doctrine and how the faith should be practiced. Those differences continued through the centuries right up to today. Denial of that basic truth harms us all as church.
Despite these differences, the center has held. That is, the majority have stayed united with Rome while those on the extremes have joined or started other religions or become apathetic or nonbelievers.
We should not be eager to declare anyone who wishes to identify themselves as Catholic as heretics or dissidents. Jesus did not reject others or brand them heretics. Rather than attack anyone for their doctrinal beliefs or their religious practices, he warned against hypocrisy and the refusal to love, forgive and serve others.
The church faces many challenges - as we have throughout our entire history. We do not need a pope who can solve all these challenges. But we do need a pope who will embrace all Catholics, extend a welcoming hand to others, and seek the help of all people of good will as fellow pilgrims committed to walking and working together.