John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The New Pope

Posted on March 13, 2013

I was hoping for an American Pope.  I got a South American Pope.

I guess I should have been more specific.

But the South American Pope is a Jesuit, which is not only a historical novelty, it is a huge plus for a Jesuit-trained guy like me.

As has often been noted, a good chunk of the world's Catholics live in South America, although not as many of them are Jesuit.  The Catholic Church helped to discover, and then conquer and then rule the varied countries of South America.  First, it was the Portuguese and then the Spanish (or was it the other way around) but either way, it was Catholics from the Iberian Peninsula who first brought Europe to the Americas.

Christopher Columbus was an Italian who travelled under the dime of the Spanish Monarchs.  The first South American Pope's parents were from Italy.

The New Pope is not from North America, but he could learn a lot from the North American Church.

Many in the media talk about a Church in crisis, but in one particularly important way, the Catholic Church is more powerful than ever.   In political terms, Catholics are running this country.

(If you want to talk about a Church in real crisis, you should focus on the Episcopalians.  Nobody is Episcopalian any more).

The Vice President is Catholic.  This is the same Catholic who concludes pretty much every deal on behalf of this White House.  He ran against a Catholic, who is now the House Budget Chairman.  The Secretary of State is Catholic.  The White House Chief of Staff is Catholic.  The Speaker of the House is Catholic.  The House MInority Leader is Catholic. The Senate Majority Whip is Catholic.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is Catholic.  In fact, the Supreme Court has a majority of Catholics.

All of these Catholics running the government would have been unthinkable 50 years ago.  Now, it is no big deal.

But it is a big deal.  For a Church in Crisis, it has a lot of friends in very high places.

The rise of this powerful laity has coincided with a decline in the power of the clergy.  The Catholic Church hierarchy is a mess.  The Church spends millions in lawsuits having to do with the sexual abuse scandal.  Nobody listens to the Bishops anymore, much as I really like many of them.

There are several very talented Church leaders out there.  Cardinal Dolan is a God-send.  He would have made a wonderful Pope.  Cardinal Wuerl is very capable.  Cardinal George is seen as a real leader in Chicago.

In my humble opinion, despite all of these powerful political leaders, the Church would be better off staying out of politics and focusing on things that will revive the Church's fortunes over the long haul.

The Church has to recommit to its elementary and secondary education systems.   I believe firmly that Catholic education is not only important for the Church, it is important for America.   Public education works for some but it is a disaster for many others.  Kids who get a Catholic education are far more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and get a job.  It is perhaps the best way to avoid poverty, unless of course, you take a vow of poverty.

The new Pope is not looking at me for my advice on how to run the Church, but I am going to give him a suggestion nonetheless.  The Catholic Church works best when it applies the spiritual to the practical.  I am not talking liberation theology here.  I am talking about the building blocs of society, education, taking care of our neighbors, teaching basic ethics to a country that desperately needs a better understanding of what makes an ethical society, and in many other ways, teaching Catholics how to be good citizens.

I know a lot of my more conservative Catholic friends don't care much for the Jesuits.  I love the Jesuits because they translate the spiritual into the practical.  And plus, I am Jesuit-trained, so I got that going for me.  Which is nice.

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