Update: An hour after this message was posted, very sadly, Pope John Paul II returned to his home which is unfortunately much further than Australia.
Karol Wojtyla (1920-2005) has been a visible Pope, and I think that he has been a clearly positive figure. He's been loved by the catholics and others. He considered abortions on par with holocaust, which is an example of his clear conservative approach, and he has rehabilitated some of our old colleagues who have been terrorized by the Church half a millenium ago, which is an example of his progressive thinking (I don't mean the U.S. English meaning of the word "progressive" where it means a "far left-wing nutcase"). His Church has not died in this modern world. In fact, it has expanded in many regions of the world and it helped to tear down Communism. And he has personally been a source of peace and a moral authority.
Millions of people including pagans like me wished him good health. But because his condition did not look too optimistic on Saturday - in fact, it made us saddened - and because 85 years of age was not such an unexpected time of the last day of one's life, the College of Cardinals was already undoubtedly thinking about a new Pope.
The papacy of John Paul II has been a pretty impressive era, and it will be hard for a new pope to match Wojtyla.
Because I am Czech, it is natural for me to mention Miloslav Vlk (*1932), the head of the Czech Catholic Church and the Archbishop of Prague. (Christoph von Schonborn was also born in Czechoslovakia, in 1945, but I have no idea who he is except that he is a very strong candidate from Austria.) For a discussion of candidates as seen in 1999, click here. For an update from 2001, click here. For a recent discussion about this topic, click here. (Incidentally, the latter article suggests that John Paul II was partly elected because of his nice lecture at Harvard University in 1976.)
Because I am not a Catholic and my experience with Christianity has had both signs, my comments may be viewed as impartial or ignorant, depending on your viewpoint. Miloslav Vlk (*1932) has many virtues:
- he's pretty bright
- he has a good record for having struggled with the socialist regime in Czechoslovakia to become a priest - and he has worked as a window-washer in one period
- he's been awarded many awards, and he holds many important functions in the European Catholic Church
- he is a theologist and he is popular among his colleagues in Western Europe as well as Eastern Europe
- he is a Slav, and after 500 years of Italian Popes, the very recent experience with the Slavic Popes has been very good, I think
- he speaks many languages
- his focus is on movements - John Paul II liked them, too - especially the Focolare movement, whatever it is - and this implies a certain feeling of continuity
- more generally, according to The Washington Times, Vlk would most likely be Wojtyla's choice; see also a February message from the Pope to Vlk
- he is a Slav from Central and Eastern Europe (possibly the only serious candidate from that region), and it may seem unlikely or even awkward to elect a second Pope from this group in a row
- the Church may want to choose a younger person (Vlk is 72+)
- his focus on the movements may be viewed as too narrow by some
- the Church may want to extend its diversity and choose a non-European candidate (perhaps even an African); this would be a disadvantage for all European candidates; I think that a non-European pope is unlikely, but it is not impossible to imagine
- his last name (Vlk=Wolf) contains no vowels (although "r" and "l" are treated as vowels in similar Czech words) which may be a problem for the stupid people in the Church
Despite the candidates from Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Central Europe, the experts on Vaticanology estimate that the next Pope will be Italian once again because the "Italian nationality does not irritate anyone and an Italian candidate is a smooth sailing which would not be the case for French, German, or American candidates," the experts say. More precisely, no one is offended by the nation with the highest corruption in the Western world -and the nation that has invented mafia. In my viewpoint, this argument is actually another argument for candidates like Vlk.
It's time for the cardinals to isolate themselves from the real world in the Sistine Chapel. They will have to chat until special smoke signals prove that the choice has been made. If they're unable to choose Wojtyla's successor for three days, they can only eat bread and wine. After five days, they can only fill their plate once. These rules of starvations have been tested for many centuries and they guarantee that someone is eventually chosen. They must write their choice on a 5-centimeter-wide paper ballots because Jesus Christ has not approved the use of computers yet; consequently, the cardinals are instructed to change their handwriting for the sake of secrecy. A fascinating procedure.
Let me list a couple of candidates according to their country:
- Africa: Nigeria - Francis Arinze (72) - he is experienced with the Christian-Muslim relations, and could be able either to push the religions closer together, or - if it does not work out - to upgrade the war on terrorism to a universal war against the Muslims. Because some evil commentators deliberately misinterpret what I wrote, let me clarify that this description of Arinze is a reason why I personally think that it is inappropriate to choose him. Islam can't be brought closer to Christianity and the attempts to do so are dangerous.
- Europe: Italy - Angelo Scola (63) - a leading and young priest from Venice - the Popes in 1958 and 1978 were from Venice
- Europe: Italy - Carlo Maria Martini (78) - a guy from Milan who has been always against the conservatives, but he's been a candidate for too long
- Europe: Italy - Giovanni Battista (71) - a moderate guy "from the establishment" which is a disadvantage
- Europe: Italy - Dionigo Tettamanzi (71) - once a leading Italian candidate - "one saved African HIV kid is more valuable than the Universe"
- Europe: Italy - Angelo Sodano (77) - the man #2 in Vatican, a conservative diplomat who may have been too close to Pinochet while he was in Chile
- Europe: Austria - Christoph Schönborn (60) - worked to reconcile with the Orthodox Catholic Church, too young; born in Skalsko, Czechoslovakia
- Europe: Germany - Joseph Ratzinger (77) - hard conservative who has been discussed a candidate every time the blocs could not agree. He will celebrate the 78th birthday, and then he will probably be elected as Pope Benedict XVI. The first German Pope since 1055-1057. An accomplished pianist who speaks ten languages, dislikes relativism, communism, homosexuality, and prefers the fundamental truth. He prefers a smaller but purer Church.
- Europe: Belgium - Godfried Danneels (71) - a frontrunner of the reform forces supporting the role of women, rights of divorced people; questionable health after a heart attack
- Europe: France - Jean-Marie Lustiger (78) - too old; pro-Israeli (risky); born Jewish; archbishop of Paris; anti-racist
- Europe: Czechia - Miloslav Vlk (72) - a popular theologist and window-washer described in this article
- Asia: India - Ivan Dias (68) - Church diplomat who traveled everywhere, defender of conservative Vatican viewpoints, 5 languages
- Latin America: Argentina - Jorge Mario Bergoglio (68) - successfully managed the 2001 synod in Rome; lives in an apartment, cook his own food, travels by bus
- Latin America: Honduras - Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiagia (62) - he may be too young (after a long papacy, they prefer a shorter one i.e. older candidates) - but he is a star of the Church in Latin America who knows languages etc.
- Latin America: Mexico - Noberto Rivera Carrera (62) - also young - fights for egalitarianism, however religiously conservative
- Latin America: Colombia - Darío Castrillon Hoyos (74) - against drug-trafficking, against poverty, against free theology
- Latin America: Dominican Republic - Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez (68) - a critic of his local government and military, socially left-wing, religiously conservative (against abortions, sterilization etc.)
- Latin America: Brazil - Cláudio Hummes (70) - a German Brazilian - an interesting anti-war, anti-condom candidate