John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Next Pope

Posted on February 11, 2013

I was first introduced to Cardinal Ratzinger when I was in college.

Not in person, mind you, but in his books.

As a Jesuit institution, Marquette is not the most conservative Catholic university in the country, and it is known for having vibrant intellectual debate on theological matters within the campus confines.

But the particular class I took was a pretty orthodox examination of Catholic theology.  Back in the day, I was pretty much a theological rabble rouser, having grown up in a family of theological rabble-rousers.

I found Ratzinger’s book, An Introduction to Christianity, to be a pretty dense read, and I had my fair share of skepticism, some of which I would even address in class.

I have always found discussions about how many angels who dance on the head of a pin to be moot.  I don’t know the answer to those questions, and I don’t know how anybody else would know them.

But I find the Catholic Church to be a very useful and important social institution, despite the flaws.

I like Catholics.  I like hanging out with them.  I feel comfortable with the rituals of the Catholic faith.

I also understand that in any religious faith, you sometimes are better off not getting too mired in the details.

When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he had some big shoes to fill.   Like the guy who followed John Wooden (Gene Bartow) or the guy who replaced Ara Parseghian (Dan Devine), it is not easy to come after a legend.

And let’s face it, John Paul the Great (as he will soon be known) was a legend.

Benedict has been lackluster as a Pope, in my humble opinion.

First of all, he was really old when he got the job.   78 is an age when most people retire, not an age when most people start a new job.   And Benedict had stated publicly that he had wanted to retire before being selected as the successor to Saint Peter.

He announced today that he was retiring, which hasn’t happened since 1415, or way before most of us were born.   Most Popes die in office.

I think this shows pretty good judgment by the Pontiff.  He made the decision that he couldn’t do a good job, so he quit.   More people should follow his lead.  If you can’t perform , do something else.

The next Pope has a host of challenges.

First and foremost, the next Pontiff has to figure out a way to deal decisively with the sex abuse scandals.   The Church won’t be able to survive into the future unless it weeds out the bad actors and works with law enforcement to put the perverts in jail.

No excuses.   That behavior is completely unacceptable.  The Church can’t hope that it just goes away.

Second, the next Pope has to be a better, more vigorous communicator.   Benedict’s First Tweet was historic, but it was also rather odd.   We need a Church leader who can lead boldly and communicate clearly in language that people not only understand, but also viscerally feel.

Third, the next Pope needs to be relevant to the struggles of everyday life.  Deep theological discussions are fine, but most folks want practical advice on how to live their lives in a spiritual, consequential way, full of happiness and hope.  A Pope that can do that will be a true gift from God.

The Catholic Church has many flaws, because it is a Church made up of men (and women), most of whom have many flaws.  But it serves a noble purpose and it has an even more noble mission.

I look forward to seeing where the next Pope takes the Church.