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The Next Pope: Part Two

atTTBW 1211 The Next Pope, Part 2
PBS air date 4/15/2004

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 2' This week on Think Tank.

Ben WATTENBERG: Gentlemen, Chester Gillis, Michael Novak, welcome back to continue our discussion of the next pope. Chester, you had said to me that you felt that John Paul the second also had a negative legacy.

Chester GILLIS: True. And I mean this to be balanced because I do think he has a great papacy but at the same time I think that he centralized authority in the Vatican in ways that were unhelpful. In the early part of his papacy, when bishops would come as a body from their countries to meet with the Pope, as they do regularly, there was a dialogue and a conversation and he would listen and hear what was happening in various national bodies. In the latter part of his papacy he generally lectured the bishops and then sent them home. And I donít think that mode of communication is very helpful for the church. The pope needs to be informed...

Ben WATTENBERG: How would you know that?

Chester GILLIS: Oh, there are lots of reporters who are reporting these things and bishops who speak about this. Bishops who speak about exactly - not exactly, precisely what happens at the meetings per se, although lots of the talks are published. But the sense of this is the way the meeting has been constructed. And I think thatís been a bit problematic for this particular papacy. And I think the womenís issue is an issue that continues to percolate under the surface that has to be addressed still.

Ben WATTENBERG: Would you buy that, Michael, about in the first half of his term he was more open-minded and...

Michael NOVAK: I donít. I donít see it. I will admit that...

Ben WATTENBERG: Well youíve heard those stories?

Michael NOVAK: Iíve heard that criticism. I donít think itís valid. I think that in going to the churches everywhere around the world, you mentioned this, 102 visits. He has always had the clergy of the country and maybe others come to the - the bishops I mean. Heís always taught in that circle of bishops and heís given them a sense of a worldwide mission and a worldwide body. And the second thing that has really strengthened is you see the power of a pope to a church because if you want to know what the Catholic Church teaches you can ask one person.

Ben WATTENBERG: Letís talk about the United States of America for a minute. How badly has this child sex abuse situation hurt Americaís standing in the Church, in the public, whatever?

Chester GILLIS: Well, I think first of all, the first people I think of are the victims. Itís destroyed many lives, tragically. And thatís unfortunate. And itís undermined the confidence of many Roman Catholics in America universally. Boston is the most egregious case but this has touched many dioceses. How itís viewed in Rome and how it will play out in the universal church I think is less determined and probably not as significant as we think. America tends to be a bit solipsistic. We tend to think that we are the world in many ways...

Ben WATTENBERG: You mean weíre not?

Chester GILLIS: Well weíre largely self-absorbed sometimes. And thatís not a bad thing. I think any nation might be - have a certain pride about its nation. But, you know, American Catholics make up six percent of the Roman Catholic Church.


Chester GILLIS: Six percent. There a very small percentage of the - so universally itís not the major issue in the Church by any stretch of the imagination. Itís a very sad chapter in the Church; it should not be tolerated anywhere.

Ben WATTENBERG: And itís probably going on elsewhere but because our media machine tends to...

Chester GILLIS: Our media machine...And our cases were pretty horrific and numerous. But itís happened in Mexico, itís happened in Ireland, itís happened in Spain. Itís happened in a lot of countries.

Ben WATTENBERG: What do your students think?

Chester GILLIS: Well it just so happens Iím teaching a course - a seminar on 'Catholicism and Society' this very semester. And the students write visceral response papers every week to various issues in the church, seeking those issues in the public media. Where is the church present in the American culture? I want them to see it palpably where it is whether itís in the New York Times, or Time Magazine or this show or - and then respond to it. And on this particular issue, I mean, every one to a person is sad that they have had great confidence in the clergy, theyíve looked up to them and theyíre sad that this has happened and theyíre a bit skeptical. They need to be won over again. And thatís unfortunate because most priests are very good and doing excellent work, as Michael knows, and spending their lives to live out the gospel and to be the gospel for others.

Ben WATTENBERG: How is the American church regarded in Vatican circles? I mean is there - do we get some of the generic anti-Americanism in the Vatican circles as well, or?

Chester GILLIS: I think, you know, the American church is respected, but I donít think itís particularly...that Rome looks for its cues from the American church per se. And I think while we have a number of cardinals and some who have some influence in the Vatican, I think less than in some other countries. One of the ways, which the American church is very influential, is financially. I mean itís one of the greatest resources for the Church and thatís very important to the Church and Americans have been very generous to the Vatican and to keep the mechanism of the Vatican...

Ben WATTENBERG: Although the Church has been killed by this child-abuse, the liability...

Chester GILLIS: It has. Well, in particular places it has. Liability claims have been...

Ben WATTENBERG: Enormous.

Chester GILLIS: Enormous. And theyíve virtually - many dioceses have teetered on bankruptcy; thereís no question about that. But at the same time they maintain a loyalty to the Vatican and continue to send funds.

Ben WATTENBERG: I want to play some inside baseball in a minute about whoís going to win. But, first of all, thereís not going to be an American pope and thatís... just as thereís A: because thereís no big candidate and B: because just as thereís not going to be an American Secretary General of the United Nations, you are not going to let...I mean America is perceived to be running everything anyway, youíre not going to give them either of those jobs. So weíre out of that game.

Chester GILLIS: Not going to give a club to the biggest guy on the block. I donít think so.

Ben WATTENBERG: Right. Who are the...

Michael NOVAK: We may guarantee it by being too firm on that. I mean there really, as we all know, whoever goes in a pope exits a Cardinal. And itís very often a surprise candidate. You know if you had to pick the last four or five, youíd probably picked - well, youíd probably pick two, because they were secretaries of state before.

Chester GILLIS: Right.


Michael NOVAK: But...

Ben WATTENBERG: Secretaries of state of the Vatican.

Chester Gillis: Of the Vatican.

Ben WATTENBERG: Weíre not talking about Colin Powell.

Michael NOVAK: Which means theyíre, you know...the secretary of state is not like the foreign minister. The secretary of state is like a prime minister. He more or less runs the day-to-day functions of the Church.

Ben Wattenberg: I see.

Chester GILLIS: Generally if you start handicapping the race, so to speak, youíll come out a loser. You wonít even win the top three. Iím not sure that anybody would pick Karol Wojtyla to have been the pope in 78. Certainly not the front runner.

Michael NOVAK: Watch for one thing. After the pope dies, the College of Cardinals in Rome, the general congregation, begins meeting every day because they sort of run the church, and they name the date of the burial and from that day the clock starts running. For fifteen days the conclave must begin - not sooner than fifteen days and not later than twenty days after that. So the word will go out to all the Cardinals of the world to come to Rome. And then the congregation of cardinals will choose two cardinals to address the assembly at two different occasions on what are the great tasks facing the new pope. This group, we have to remember, this group of, what is it a hundred and...

Chester GILLIS: 134 presently who are eligible to vote

Michael NOVAK: Eligible to vote.

Chester GILLIS: You have to be under eighty years old to be eligible. There are another 60 cardinals or so who are over 80.

Ben WATTENBERG: And there are very few young popes picked.

Chester GILLIS: There - well historically there have been some. I mean I think...

Ben WATTENBERG: I mean if you picked a forty or forty-five-year-old pope he might be in business for thirty-five, forty years.

Chester GILLIS: Exactly. I think if we talk in those terms, if you talk about chronologically, then you could talk about categories. A pope in his 60s or 70s is more likely. I think not likely in his 50s. As much as this has been a distinguished papacy, Iím not sure that the cardinals want another twenty-five year papacy. So someone in his 50s is unlikely.

Michael NOVAK: You know, this is the third longest papacy ever.

Chester GILLIS: Right. So I think age will play a factor. Geography will play a factor, too.

Ben WATTENBERG: Yes, I was going to ask that.

Chester GILLIS: Whether we will return to norms and have an Italian. There are a few who are possibilities. Whether we take a European and try to revive the European church in that way, or do we look to the developing world, particularly probably Latin America or perhaps Africa.

Ben WATTENBERG: Do you have a geographical preference? Do you think it would be a good thing to have a Third World pope - an African pope?

Chester GILLIS: Well, I think there are merits to any one of those. There are merits to returning to an Italian pope and kind of the classic way the Vatican has been run from the inside in a sense. Thereís merit to having a European pope, with a chance to try to revive the European church and who might be an intellectual also. And yet the Third World is the place where the church is growing rapidly, and where questions of social justice are often very prominent. And this is very dear to the present popeís heart. A candidate who would be of that stripe would be very attractive to the Church. I think thereís only twenty-two Italian cardinals among the electors this time so the numbers are smaller, but among Europeans itís much larger. So...

Ben WATTENBERG: Michael, give me a fast rundown of some names.

Michael Novak: I lean to the idea that it might well be an Italian. Some of my best friends donít think thatís at all likely, but Tettamanzi, Ruini, Scola is a bit young at sixty-two in Venice but terrific and a university president. It would be easy to get eight or ten. Not household names but playing an important role as presidents of the Italian Bishopsí Conference or vicar of Rome or cardinal of Milan or Bologna, you know, Venice, the big Cs.

Ben WATTENBERG: You would really... if they picked an African pope, boy, that would be a media event that would...

Chester GILLIS: Cardinal Arinze, Francis Cardinal Arinze is a.. has been...

Ben WATTENBERG: From where?

Chester GILLIS: Heís from Nigeria, and heís been mentioned many times. And while he is an African, heís been in the Vatican for over twenty years. I mean heís very much an insider. Heís run congregations in the Vatican.

Ben WATTENBERG: But heís Black.

Chester GILLIS: Oh, of course. Heís Black and heís a prominent intellectual...

Michael NOVAK: He looks like a forward to a basketball team. Heís a tall, impressive, classical man. One funny thing is a hundred years ago, in 1878, they had just had the second longest pontificate with Pius the ninth, thirty-three years. And so they decided to choose an older man so theyíd get a short pontificate. Seventy-eight they chose Leo the 13th. He was sixty-eight years old. He lived until 1903. It was one of the longest papacies again.

Ben WATTENBERG: We all hear these stories about the black smoke coming up and the white smoke coming up and itís a two-thirds majority, you know, itís a simple major. How does that work? What are the ground rules?

Michael NOVAK: It starts off on the first day beginning - theyíre in Sistine chapel. In the morning thereís a mass and a talk about the task facing the next pope. Thereís one vote. Then for the next six days there are two votes: in the morning, in the afternoon. So four votes on a day. And itís not six days, but itís...

Chester GILLIS: Itís three days.

Michael NOVAK: Three days. Because after thirteen votes they take a day off for prayer and reflection. And then they start again with one vote and then...

Chester GILLIS: Seven - seven more votes are possible.

Michael NOVAK: Yes, the one and then six more. So seven. And they do that taking a day off and then seven votes, three times, I guess.

Chester GILLIS: Three times, right.

Michael NOVAK: So itís a total of thirty-four ballots that have been cast trying to get two-thirds, or two-thirds plus one...

Ben WATTENBERG: And every day they donít get it they send up black smoke.

Chester GILLIS: They send up black smoke. Exactly.

Ben WATTENBERG: When they get a pope they send up white smoke.

Chester GILLIS: They send up white smoke and virtually everyone in the world - not everyone, but many people in the world know that symbol. I mean itís a great symbol.

Ben WATTENBERG: I mean...

Michael NOVAK: If it works. You know theyíve had a little trouble getting the smoke...

Chester GILLIS: Sometimes it doesnít work. They treat it with some chemicals to make sure that it comes out white or black.

Michael NOVAK: And then they meet. The cardinals have a choice to... now to vote a rule for themselves and one possibility is to go to majority vote, and another possibility is to say weíll take the two top candidates and go to majority vote.

Ben WATTENBERG: So you get into a pretty political situation, donít you? I mean...

Chester GILLIS: In some ways it is, I think.

Michael NOVAK: But the church has run itself with that amount of democracy for a very long time. I mean the Benedictines and the Dominicans going way back to the fifth century, the twelfth century, have elected their leaders this way for a long time so the balloting is a pretty standard procedure.

Chester GILLIS: Some of these cardinals would come out of religious orders. Some would have preference for a geographical candidate. Some would have a preference for a liberal or conservative. Perhaps. But...and, you know, theologically, said that the Holy Spirit guides the process. But Michaelís correct, itís an election. When you make a ballot and you count votes, it is an election.

Michael NOVAK: But they have to promise...

Ben WATTENBERG: Where you have an election you have politics.

Chester GILLIS: Right.

Michael NOVAK: But they have to promise - they have to promise, and they do it over and over again, that theyíre going to vote their conscience on each one a these votes.
And that doesnít mean that they wonít have certain friends or - remember these 130 guys have not met together before. Itís not as if they know one another thoroughly.

Ben WATTENBERG: Look down the road for me ten years and tell me what is the... what do you think the state of the Catholic Church will be?

Chester GILLIS: Well...I mean I think more of the same largely. I think that thereíll be a consistency; there always has been in the church.

Ben WATTENBERG: More of the same meaning tumult and turmoil or more of the same...

Chester GILLIS: Well, I mean the church has always had to a degree tumult within itself. I mean if you look at the his - one of the most astonishing things about the church is its history. You can find virtually everything in its history. The good, the bad and the ugly. I think that will continue to some degree. But I do think that a lot will hinge upon the style of the leader and the direction that this leader chooses. Thereís no question about it, John Paul the second has put his stamp on the church in the last twenty-five years. Very clearly internationally, very well known internally in the church. Heís been a strong disciplinarian in the church. Depending upon who follows him, that person if he were to stay for ten years in the papacy would also put a stamp on the church. Taking into consideration all the issues weíve said that he should address. Again, who are we to say what he will address. The pope will do as he wills I suspect. But the church probably will continue to grow in the Third World and whether they will abate the shrinkage in the First World, I donít know. Iím not sure what the strategy for that would be exactly.

Ben WATTENBER: Michael whatís...this is ten years from now. What...

Michael NOVAK: Well, take that bellwether you mentioned forty years ago, the Vatican council - Pope John the 23rd, the smiling pope...

Ben WATTENBERG: The smiling pope? Is that what he was called?

Michael NOVAK: Yes, he was a very friendly, open pope. A very - he was much beloved around the world. My wife and I went there for our honeymoon, to the Vatican council. Thought, you know, what a great idea. The council only comes once a century, letís go. And so we put our meager wedding money in and we went. And I wrote about it and you know, helped earn our way that way. But the main purpose of it, Pope John says, to let some air into the church. He said I want to open the window and let air in. Well thereís been a lot of air come in the Church in the last forty years, and at times it was like opening up the windows of your car just before you go into a terrible, gaseous tunnel. And it wasnít all good. But now what is the church? You know, now what has the church to say to the world? I think thatís the big question that John Paul IIís been trying to turn us to. And I think, you know, the people who follow him have a great sense of self-confidence and of the fecundity of what the Catholic Church is and what it stands for and what it teaches. Just a couple of examples: Heís been very strong on the crucial role of freedom for faith. God offers everybody his friendship but you, and you, and you have to choose. Itís inalienable. Nobody can do it for you. Youíve got to say yes or no. And so thereís got to be freedom. Youíve got to respect that. Thatís a bit different from the way the Muslim world interprets things. The idea of freedom is not so - it must be there in Islam because...

Ben WATTENBERG: Say yes or no to what?

Michael NOVAK: To God. To faith. But thatís hinged on freedom, and to bring freedom forward as a crucial precondition of faith. Thatís very important. And it changes the way you look at a lot of things, and it changes a lot of the way you look at political and economic things for instance thatís... But also the Catholic Church is a church of learning. That is, God is truth. Everything comes from the mind of God, so itís all got to be good and beautiful and true, and if there are contradictions in it well, that just means weíve got to work harder. You know, there arenít going to be contradictions in the truth. Maybe itís because our understandings are inadequate and... Lord Whitehead once said that you couldnít understand the emergence of modern science without understanding that teaching over 5000 years. The idea comes from Judaism, that God created the world and saw that it was good. There is a truth and we donít all see it, but we have to argue in light of the evidence we have and respect the truth - not power, but truth. With that idea civilization is possible. That is free men, open men, discursive men argue with one another. Barbarians club one another, because itís all about power. So it makes civilization possible. These ideas - freedom and truth - are just very, very important. And theyíre very important to JP II.

Ben WATTENBERG: Weíve had some pretty good clubbings in the last century. In this century even, already in the 21st century.

Michael NOVAK: Weíve had a brutal, bloody century we just came out of. And he - John Paul II was born in the middle of it. Well, this next pope I hope will carry on, but whether he does or not - because weíve had bad popes in history, you know, our faith is not at the pope - and there are going to be a lot of learned and devout people who are going to carry forward what John Paul II started. Itís going to be - we havenít talked about his intellectual legacy. You know, he was issuing an encyclical, a letter to the whole world, every year there for awhile and just as diocese were getting up to study last yearsí, a new one came out and youíre having conferences and seminars banging into one another.

Ben WATTENBERG: All right, hereís my... and you sort of touched on it here. Hereís my last question and letís just play a little thought experiment. Chester, you won, youíre the pope. What are you going to do?

Chester GILLIS: Ah. Well, I think the first thing - this is an unthinkable question for me of course. But the first thing I would do would be to continue to empower the laity in the church because I see the body of Christ and the Church as the people of God. In concert with the clergy, working with them, but the laity is the Church and I think in many ways, in many places, it will be the future of the Church, in light of the particular priest crisis in some places. So I think that I would try to work in concert with them and dialogue with them and see what the issues are for them and try to listen to them and try to hear the spirit through them as well as through the larger hierarchical body. Thatís the first thing I would do.

Ben WATTENBERG: Michael, youíre pope. You studied for the priesthood, didnít you?

Michael NOVAK: Yep.

Ben WATTENBERG: You went through what, four years of...

Michael NOVAK: Hey, I went through twelve years altogether, meaning high school, college, a year of novitiate and three years of theology.

Ben WATTENBERG: And then decided at the end that...

Michael NOVAK: Well, I was within a year of graduate - of ordination and I decided having wrestled with it very acutely for two years.

Ben WATTENBERG: Having wrestled with it.

Michael NOVAK: Yes, really. Yes, back and forth and having wanted to leave and then thinking it over and...anyway when I knew I knew. And I left, you know, really six months before ordination. Had a hundred dollars in my pocket, went to New York, determined not to work. And I wanted to finish a novel, and I did and it was published. But my guess is the best thing to do is not to try to imitate what this man before - this man had too many talents in too many directions. Youíre not going to be able to be like him, so you have to be yourself and give the best service that you can. But he did start some deepening. I agree with Chester on this that itís important to call on the great strengths of laypeople. One thing this pope likes about the United States is we have all these colleges and universities, Catholic colleges and universities - no one else on earth has that. I mean, Germany has one. One small little Catholic college. So thereís so many educated and learned laypeople, men and women, poets and dramatists and novelists and the rest, who are Catholic. And this is a great - great state. There should be more of it around the world. What we need to do is create the kind of culture in which Judaism and Christianity and freedom can take root. And thatís a big, you know...in other words itís not just an internal church job. Itís a culture-changing job. Itís like yeast and dough and thatís the way the Vatican council wanted us to conceive of ourselves, and itís what John Paul II has tried to exercise. Itís a big agenda. But thereís reason to be confident, because science itself, which was very anti-religious for so long is beginning to come up with discoveries that are causing people to look again at scientific methods.

Ben WATTENBERG: Thatís a whole other program. And a good one!

Michael Novak: It is a whole other program. The next couple of centuries are going to be very interesting in the relation of science and religion I think.

Ben WATTENBERG: Okay, on that note, thank you Michael Novak, and thank you Chester Gillis. And thank you for joining us on Think Tank. Please, remember to send us your
comments via email. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.


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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.

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