HomeAbout Think TankAbout Ben WattenbergPrevious ShowsWhere to WatchSpecials


Watch Videos and Listen to Podcasts at ThinkTankTV.com

  « Back to The Next Pope: Part One main page
TranscriptsGuestsRelated ProgramsFeedback

Transcript for:

The Next Pope: Part One

PBS air date 4/8/2004

Funding for Think Tank is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending over five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

(opening animation)

Ben WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg. Pope John Paul II has presided over the Roman Catholic Church for 25 years. The next pope will be the 265th successor to St. Peter. He will face a church that is described as split between the politically powerful and more liberal clergy in Europe and the more traditional Catholics leading a rapidly expanding Church in the Third World. It is said that factions within the Church are already jockeying for position. Will the next Pope hold to the current line? Or institute major changes? Should he? Will we see another Italian at the head of the Catholic Church? Or is it time for a Pope from the poor nations? To find out, Think Tank is joined this week by Michael Novak, the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, and Chester Gillis, chairman of the Dept. of Theology at Georgetown University and author of Roman Catholicism in America. The topic before the House: 'The Next Pope, Part 1' This week on Think Tank.

Ben WATTENBERG: Michael Novak, Chester Gillis, thank you very much for joining us on Think Tank. Michael youíve been a guest here many times. Pope John Paul the second is clearly nearing the end of his tenure as pope. Heís been pope for 25 years. Thatís quite a span of time. Michael you first, perhaps, what is his legacy?

Michael NOVAK: Claire Booth Luce used to say on your tombstone you get one sentence and I donít know exactly what his would be, but among the others would be 'help defeat communism.' That was the great persecuting enemy of the Church for seventy years.

Ben WATTENBERG: Gorbachev was -I wrote it down, I was doing some research - Gorbachev said that what happened in Eastern Europe would not have been possible without...

Michael NOVAK: No.

Ben WATTENBERG: ...Pope John Paul the second. Just not possible.

Michael NOVAK: Everybody tells you that in Eastern Europe. Everybody. And when he came to Poland after the first...

Ben WATTENBERG: We saw that. Michael and I were on the board of Radio Free Europe together. We saw the tremendous reaction in Poland when...

Michael NOVAK: When the people gathered in Poland on his first visit at Czestochowa and there were x-million, I canít remember how many million.


Michael NOVAK: But it was a lot.


Michael NOVAK: And people looked around and they tell you today, they looked at one another and said there are more of us than there are of them. And they knew suddenly the power had shifted into their hands. So they felt protected. Anything that happened bad to one of them in Poland, he knew, and heíd go public. Nothing could be hidden.

Ben WATTENBERG: Do you agree with that?

Chester GILLIS: Itís a distinguished legacy. But I think it is mixed in some ways. I think on the positive side, certainly the fight against communism, his relationship with other religions, particularly the Jewish community among them, in which he improved relations dramatically. And just to his energy and dynamism. The fact that this was not a pope of the Vatican. This was a pope of the world.

Ben WATTENBERG: 102 trips.

Chester GILLIS: And he was gifted at this, extremely gifted. He knew when the lights went on how to charm the crowd. It will be very difficult for his successor to hide within the confines of the Vatican. They must find someone who has the personality, the charisma, the possibility to bring the church to the world. I think thatís a big part of his legacy.

Ben WATTENBERG: How many languages did he speak? Do you know?

Chester GILLIS: At least eight fluently and he probably knew others, so that was also a tremendous advantage.

Ben WATTENBERG: Iím working on my first, so... Now he has appointed nearly every member of the current Catholic hierarchy. What impact will that have on the selection of the next pope?

Chester GILLIS: I wouldnít want to speculate that the next pope will be identical to this pope. Thereís a saying in Rome, and Michael would know this - and I donít mean this to be pejorative in any way or disrespect his memory - but thereís no one deader than a dead pope - meaning that when the pope dies, all political ties are loosed. So that people are free to think in ways perhaps they didnít think before. John the 23rd was someone probably that they wouldnít have speculated would be chosen, thought he was an interim pope who would simply be a caretaker, and changed the church dramatically, and was very different from Pius the 12th. Now, that being said, the cast of characters is more aligned with the way John Paul is and thereíll probably be a continuity there I would suspect.

Ben WATTENBERG: On some of the issues that he has dealt with - birth control, homosexuality, abortion - I donít want to be too blunt about it, but he lost those fights. I mean the Catholics in America and I think around... certainly in Europe, use contraceptives. I mean, am I right, Michael?

Michael NOVAK: Well, only partly. First of all the church is like a - and Iíd say this of a country - itís like a large aircraft carrier. It just doesnít change very much. You know, it changes very, very slowly, and on matters of doctrine itís not going to be able to change. So donít be too surprised if however progressive or liberal the next pope may be, on the basic things he has to be where all other popes have been. And itís going to be, you know, thereís going to be a remarkable continuity. Maybe a difference in style, and maybe some differences in pastoral practice. But the basic things are going to remain pretty firm.

Ben WATTENBERG: Do you agree with that?

Chester GILLIS: I agree to an extent. I agree that there will be a continuity, basic continuity. Particularly on the doctrinal issues, Iím quite convinced there will be. But I tend to think that if you ask what the Roman Catholic Church teaches, we could articulate very clearly exactly what its teachings are. If you ask what Roman Catholics believe in practice, itís often different from the teachings, and youíve cited examples. Birth control is one clearly, particularly in the West. But in general - dispositions on homosexuality, which are changing culturally, and Catholics like others are affected by their culture; theyíre embedded in cultures that also inform their consciousness, so...

Michael NOVAK: But there is a difference in the polling, Ben. If you ask about people who go to mass regularly - I mean who go practically once a week, the percentage thatís in tune with the Pope on these issues is much, much higher.

Ben WATTENBERG: Youíve met the pope?

Michael NOVAK: Yes.

Ben WATTENBERG: Several times.

Michael NOVAK Yes.

Ben WATTENBERG: Michael, you were sort of the prince of democratic capitalism, trying to make the case that democracy and capitalism and theology can move together. And the Catholic Church, I guess in Latin America particularly, but also in Europe, and the pope never quite signed on to the Novak doctrine, did he?

Michael NOVAK: Pretty much. I mean, Iím...

Ben WATTENBERG: Pretty much did or pretty much didnít?

Michael NOVAK: Pretty much did.


Michael NOVAK: Iím very happy with his great letter on the political economy at Centesimus Annus, the hundredth year, which sums up a hundred years of papal teaching on this.

Ben WATTENBERG: Whatíd it say?

Michael NOVAK: He said, I return to the question which heíd already brought up before, after the failure of socialism does the - or should the Catholic Church embrace capitalism? And he said, in effect, the answer is complex. First thing I would have advised. If by capitalism you mean an economic system built around liberty and creativity - Iím paraphrasing - and bound by a constitutional order or a set of laws, and bound by an ethical order, then I would say yes. Although he says, 'I do think a better name for it rather than capitalism' - which is always pejorative...

Ben WATTENBERG: I know, but that was your fight all along with him, the word itself.

Michael NOVAK: But he said, rather he would have it called a free market or enterprise system.

Ben WATTENBERG: An opportunity society, or whatever.

Michael NOVAK: I think those are - you know, my own preference would have been those are weaker words, because capitalism is really the caput, head creativity, invention and practically all wealth in the world is created from that. But look I donít want to claim that the pope and I are on the same page. Iíve always thought the work of the theologian is to be like a scout and explore out in advance, and some things you say will be accepted, will be useful to the troop at large. But some you just made mistakes. Some will be rejected.

Ben WATTENBERG: How would you - Chester, how would you characterize the Catholic Church today? What are the big problems?

Chester GILLIS: Yes, the church faces a number of issues. While this pope has been very much an activist pope, he leaves on the table a series of issues that I think the next pope will have to take up almost immediately, in my view. And among those is a shortage of clergy, and this is not only in the West. Itís other places as well. The numbers in Africa while their seminaries are full cannot nearly accommodate the burgeoning number of Catholics.

Ben WATTENBERG: Did I read somewhere that twenty percent of the clergy in America are born not in America? Is that right?

Chester GILLIS: Itís about one thousand clergy out of about fifteen or sixteen thousand are foreign born. And these come from Poland, from Africa, from uh...

Ben WATTENBERG: And is that because we canít fill the slots ourselves?

Chester GILLIS: Itís precisely for that reason. There was a previous era when you know, there were lots of Irish clergy, the common acronym was FBI - Foreign Born Irish. So Monsignor MacGillicuddy was in your parish, because the Irish seminars were full and it was an advantage to come to America. The Irish seminaries are empty now but the African seminaries are full and some other places as well, the Polish seminaries.

Michael NOVAK: In Poland, for example, they have an abundance of clergy. I think I saw the other day that in another four or five years 1/3 of the priests in Europe will be Polish, or something like that. Itís spectacular. A priest, a bishop I know from here was very proud because he ordained sixteen last year, which was a big number for an American diocese.

Chester GILLIS: Thatís a very large number. Thatís a very large number.

Michael NOVAK: He brought it up at dinner with a Polish bishop he was staying with and the Polish bishop gently tried to change the subject but when he was forced to comment he said 'Well, your excellency', he said, 'Two hundred and sixty-two, from a small diocese in Poland.'

Ben WATTENBERG: They ordained two hundred and sixty-two priests.

Michael NOVAK: In one diocese in Poland, yes...

Chester GILLIS: Which is a lot.

Michael NOVAK: Not one of the bigger ones even.
And the Dominicans have a couple hundred. You know, itís - itís just -it - but hereís the difference. In Poland, being a priest is such a manly and was a dangerous thing to do for so many years. And it means high studies, high standards for education and preaching. Closeness to the people. In America I think there hasnít been near the encouragement for the last twenty years for young priests.

Ben WATTENBERG: Chester, I mean, correct me if Iím wrong I mean, Poland is the exception in Europe. I mean you have a continent that, Poland excepted, has really gone secular.

Chester GILLIS: Certainly itís not churched. I mean in the large countries, dominantly and traditionally Catholic countries like France, single digit percentage of Catholics actually attend worship on Sunday. I mean, literally you can bowl in the aisles of the cathedrals of Europe, thatís the circumstance. Poland is exceptional, and it is exceptional, and itís providing priests, but when a culture like that provides priests and sends them somewhere else, thereís sometimes a cultural disconnect and thatís difficult.

Ben WATTENBERG: Is that because - I mean, let me put in its simplest form - Is that because people donít believe in God?

Chester GILLIS: No I donít think so. I donít think so. I think the statistics would not indicate that they donít necessarily believe in God. I think that itís a long consequence of enlightenment mentality in the French revolution, starting then. They donít believe in the church. They donít believe in a sense of hierarchical authority over them in that way, in ways that they may have in previous generations.

Ben WATTENBERG: Well but the protestant churches are also not flooded...

Chester GILLIS: Right. This is true. Mainline protestant churches in America have been losing population for the last fifty years...

Ben WATTENBERG: No, but Iím talking about Europe. I mean...

Chester GILLIS: Europe as well. Mainline. True. Whereas evangelical churches are blossoming in Latin America and America and somewhat in Europe.

Ben WATTENBERG: In America.

Chester GILLIS: Yes.

Michael NOVAK: Thatís one of the big things the new pope will have to confront - the de-Christianization of Europe.
It used to be you know, the heart, that used to send missionaries everywhere. It took the faith around the world. Not so much now. Very, very little now. Itís just, as Chester just said the...

Ben WATTENBERG: The missionaries are now fundamentalists.

Michael NOVAK: Yes, in France every year they have a movement of people going out into the countryside called 'the mission de France' - treating France as a missionary country. It used to be a Catholic country.

Ben WATTENBERG: A country that missionaries should go to...

Michael NOVAK: Yes.

Ben WATTENBERG: ...but not from.

Michael NOVAK: Even lay people are urged to go out into the countryside. Those who believe, and are devout and well-learned people, to go out into the countryside to preach the gospels and to take the church to people. Cardinal Lustiger is very strong on lay missionaries.

Chester GILLIS: This is also true, as you suggested, of the protestant churches and also the Anglican Church in England has suffered a great decline.

Ben WATTENBERG: Of the mainline churches thatís true, but not of the fundamentalist churches.

Chester GILLIS: Not of the fundamentalist churches. The fundamentalist churches are garnering larger numbers.

Ben WATTENBERG: And thereís a whole political argument that goes with that.

Chester GILLIS: Thereís a political argument, a theological argument, thereís a certain simplicity of theology that goes along with that as well. And a liturgical style thatís somewhat attractive in a kind of media-driven culture.

Michael NOVAK: But the Catholic Church just to, you know, put a point on it is the fastest growing of all the religions in the world. It starts out the millennium just over a billion and itíll be a billion almost three by about 2050. Itís growing so fast...

Ben WATTENBERG: Itís growing faster than the protestant fundamentalist sects?

Michael NOVAK: Yep.

Chester GILLIS: Yes, it is.

Michael NOVAK: Yes, it is.

Chester GILLIS: And...itís right. Itís growing in Asia and Africa, but itís shrinking in the developed West, dramatically. And of course Islam is growing almost equally as fast.

Michael NOVAK: In the United States not so much. Itís shrunk some, itís true, but the number of converts to the Catholic Church in the United States is just fantastic. I mean there are dozens in every church and, you know, in some cathedrals around the country Iíve heard of two or three hundred being baptized at Easter time.

Ben WATTENBERG: You mentioned the magic word, Islam. And as you say the Pope has done some wonderful things in opening up doors to Jews. How are you going to deal with the Islamic world when, in Europe particularly, they hate immigrants and they hate Muslim immigrants and they really hate Arab immigrants and, I mean, Iím talking 'they' in a very big way but we all know thatís true. I mean thatís - itís there.

Chester GILLIS: Sure. The first thing they should do is turn to the message of Jesus and say, 'This is not Christianity. This is not what we should do.' But dealing with Islam is going to be a major part of the agenda for the next pope. Itís a religious relationship clearly, but itís also a political relationship, unquestionably.

Ben WATTENBERG: Oh, wow. It sure is.

Chester GILLIS: And this, the next pope must have a certain diplomacy and aplomb in that area to be able to deal with that world, both in its leadership, which is quite diffused, and also in its particular manifestations in various places.

Ben WATTENBERG: And there is no equivalent to the Pope in Islam?

Chester GILLIS: No. No, thereís not.

Ben WATTENBERG: And where there is in specific countries they tend to be very repressive and I mean the ayatollahs and that kind of thing. I mean...

Chester GILLIS: Many of them do. Some are more progressive. I mean Turkey is a more progressive country, for example, for Islam. So there are, you know, Islam is not one kind of, one stroke for all. It has a lot of variety, just as Catholicism does, and itís really not a Middle Eastern religion any longer. Itís a world religion, because you find in Malaysia and places like that more Muslims than in the Middle East. So itís clearly something that has to be on the mind of the next pope that this is a vital relationship.

Michael NOVAK: You know, one other thing has changed under this pope: he was very irenical towards Islam for most of his papacy.

Ben WATTENBERG: He was very what?

Michael NOVAK: Irenical, peaceful. But in the last few months, the Vatican has become much more outspoken about the tremendous persecution of Christians, notably Catholics, by fundamentalists of Islam. And theyíre not being protected by governments. Hundreds of churches have been burned down. Thousand of priests and nuns and catechists have been killed, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Two million Sudanese Christians, including a good many Catholics...

Ben WATTENBERG: You correct me if Iím wrong. Iím Jewish. Iím out of this one. But as I see the thing geopolitically, and this is particularly so I guess in the Middle East, but the Christians and their supporters, the American Christian community, for example, has not supported churches that have been persecuted and desecrated and destroyed by, I guess in this case, mostly Arabs. I mean you had the Copts and the Lebanese Christians and the Maronites and the Mennonites - I mean that whole area..

Michael NOVAK: Chaldeans in Iraq.

Ben WATTENBERG: I mean, where are their friends?

Michael NOVAK: Yes. Very few have spoken up for them. It is a bit of a scandal. Christians have not, and Catholics particularly have not, been so outspoken on behalf of the persecuted in China.

Ben WATTENBERG: What about the issue of married priests? There are some. These are former Episcopal priests, I guess, who felt that their church was going too liberal and - but they were already married, so they were allowed in. So you have some married priests within the Catholic Church?

Chester GILLIS: Also a Lutheran minister in Chicago was admitted to the Roman Catholic Church about two years ago.

Ben WATTENBERG: Now would you favor doing away with celibacy as a requirement for a Catholic priest?

Chester GILLIS: Yes I would, but I think I would favor ordaining women before I would favor eliminating celibacy. If eliminating celibacy meant keeping an all male priesthood, I would not be in favor of it. If the idea were to eliminate celibacy and it were gender equity for ordination I would say yes. I think celibacy has been a crucial disincentive. I mean all the statistics and research indicates a significant disincentive, particularly in the West, for men to become priests. And itís a discipline of the church. Itís not a doctrine. It could be changed.

Ben WATTENBERG: How do you come out on that, Michael?

Michael NOVAK: Well, I agree with Chester to this point. That weíve had married priests before. The Eastern Church, in union with Rome, has married priests. Itís a matter of discipline. You could do that. Thereís no question that women can do most of the things that most of the denominations mean by being a minister. They can preach; they can teach; they can tend to the sick; they are very...

Ben WATTENBERG: But they cannot be ordained as priests?

Michael NOVAK: I donít think itís in the power of the Pope or the Church to change the role of the male clergy. I think thereís a very - itís a long argument which you know, would take us too far afield here. But the simple version of it is I donít think that the church has the power to change what Christ himself established. And he did it in a period when virtually every other religion in the Middle East had female ministers - female priests. Women priests are a very common feature of the Middle East and of the Roman world. I think those - hereís what I think, itís not popular with everybody, but I think it: Those orders which are like the Legionaries, new order priests, which are the strongest for celibacy and traditional understandings of the priesthood, are going gangbusters. They have full seminaries. In this country alone there are hundreds of them. And around the world there are hundreds of them. So I think the more strict you are, ironically the more challenging it is to young men, and the more you attract. I think whatís happened in our seminaries is theyíve tried to be half-and-half. Well, maybe marriage will come along. Maybe celibacy wonít be in for very long. Maybe youíll be ordained now to be celibate, maybe that would - I donít think you can be half and half, Ben. Itís just not going to work.

Ben WATTENBERG: You donít buy that?

Chester GILLIS: No. I donít. I donít buy that at all actually, with all due respect to my colleague. And I respect the Popeís view that he has said very clearly about women priests, he cannot change this. This is something that is doctrinal and he doesnít have the authority to do that. But there could be theological arguments about the question of that authority, whether or not thatís possible. And there are theological arguments to that degree. While Michael says these more conservative seminaries that are attracting with very strong disciplinary characters and all...

Ben WATTENBERG: The Legionaries.

Chester GILLIS: Exactly. Are attracting candidates. And they are. And they are, but my problem with this is when these candidates go out to parishes where ordinary people are, they are not connected to the local culture or - theyíre not connected to the daily lives of people. They seem oddly foreign, and I donít think that theyíre going to be as effective. I think the same argument is true when you bring priests from Poland or Africa to the altars of America. These are well-intentioned priests and all, but theyíre not deeply embedded in the culture and they donít have a sympathy with the people or an empathy with the people. And I think thatís problematic with these particular kinds of seminaries, too.

Michael NOVAK: No, I donít agree with Chester on this. Gosh, the lay support that the Legionaries are drawing, Theyíre now starting schools. Theyíre building schools all over America. And lay people are coming out, you know, by the droves to help them. One reason Poland is doing so well is the Pope did such a great job in Poland in helping Poland take Vatican II and make it real. And make it enfleshed under the most difficult of circumstances. It became a very modern, lay-oriented church. There was a terrific bond formed ...

Ben WATTENBERG: Vatican II is when Pope John the 23rd came out.

Michael NOVAK: Yes. The council of...

Ben WATTENBERG: Youíll excuse my ignorance.

Michael NOVAK: Yes, no, the council of the 1960s, Ben, which, you know, tried to update the church and make it more in tune with many things like the use of the English language and other languages. But it didnít change the fundamental doctrines. And this I think Poland managed to do more successfully than most other countries.
And the vocations are there, full of intellect, active in Solidarnosc - the Polish labor union - active in all phases of Polish life. And I think itís quite remarkable.

Ben WATTENBERG: On that note, thank you Michael Novak and thank you Chester Gillis. And thank you. Remember to join us on a future episode when we continue our discussion about the next pope. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.


We at Think Tank depend on your views to make our show better. Please send your questions and comments to New River Media, 1219 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036. Or e-mail us at thinktank@pbs.org.

To learn more about Think Tank, visit PBS on line at www.pbs.org, and, please, let us know where you watch Think Tank.

Funding for this program is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending over five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

We are PBS.

Back to top

Think Tank is made possible by generous support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, the Dodge Jones Foundation, and Pfizer, Inc.

©Copyright Think Tank. All rights reserved.
BJW, Inc.  New River Media 

Web development by Bean Creative.