Saturday, April 02, 2005

A search for the new Pope

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
Vlk as a candidate has several disadvantages, too:
  • 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.

Other candidates

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


  1. So, just how exactly do you pronounce "Vlk"?

    Your most stupid reader.

  2. You're pagan???

  3. By a "pagan", I mean the third meaning at

    More precisely, I chose this word as opposed to an "atheist" because as a kid, I was not exposed to any religion.

  4. Pronouncing Vlk. Let me copy from this page:

    Consonant clusters
    Czech (and other Slavic languages) has tendency to cluster consonants. There are words with 4, 5, 6 or even 7 consonants in a row. Some Czech words lack vowels completely. This feature is possible thanks to an ability of consonants r and l to create syllables.

    Some examples: vlk (wolf), smrt (death), zmrzlina (ice cream), scvrklo se (it shrank), čtvrthrst (quarter-handful). There is also a tongue-twister containing only consonants: Strč prst skrz krk. (Stick your finger through your throat.)

    This overview of Czech pronunciation should not scare you as it looks more difficult than it actually is. With practice, you will internalize the rules.

    There's nothing difficult about pronouncing "Vlk". You just realize that "l" can be extended to any length of the sound, much like a vowel. For example, say "lllllow" so that "ll" is prolonged. Easy, is not it? Then you can simply say "vlllllllk". It's like "vack" except that "a" is replaced by "l". If you really have problems with it, I will record a vlk.wma file.

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  6. Lbs Mtl:

    Thnks fr tllng us bt th Czech lngg. Tht ws vry ntrstng. Wht strng lngg whn y rmv ll the vowels. I guess language of that part of Europe are indeed weird in lack of vowels. But maybe that's a thrift way of expression the same meanings using less number of characters. Also interesting is there are a lot of 'j's, but probably not many 'Q's.

    I think Paganism and atheism are also regions of their own. I am not a regious person of any kind, not even an atheist. I do not worship any religion with or without a god. Religion is the kind of stuff that you have one unconfirmed (or unconfirmable) idea about this world and you stick to it till death, which I think is dangerous.

    I am pretty open minded to almost all religions, easily convertable by any religion who can come to my door and present me a reasonable case, or show me some persuative miracles. And I do see miracles all my life long but I still have not found a reason who one needs to adopt a particular religon.

    My estimate is about 70% of all the bloody wars ever fought are simply because people have different ideas that they can't agree with each other. And the rest 30% are because there is limited resources on earth. It would have been a more peaceful world if it were not for there are too many varieties of different gods available to be worshipped. Unfortunately I think wars in future worlds could only become much more bloody.


  7. "a popular theologist and window-washer described in this article"

    What they need is not a window-washer but rather a widow-washer.

  8. "He considered abortions on par with holocaust, which is an example of his clear conservative approach"

    It's actually an example of his insensitivity and stupidity. If a person *really* believes that abortion is murder, then he has a moral duty to use force to try to prevent abortions. There are such people ["Operation Rescue"] but their activities are condemned even by rabid Catholics. From which I deduce that only a few extremist lunatics *really* believe that abortion is murder.

  9. Interesting worldview topics.

    Qt: According to you should include agnostics ('weak atheists'), which have no beliefs either way.

    Incidentally, I don't understand the logic in calling strong atheism a belief system, since Occam's razor would make it the basic worldview. Maybe someone can clear this up?

    lumo: So you were raised a pagan. When you were exposed to religion, you made a choice. Didn't you stop being pagan then?

    f uckoff: If murder is to kill a human, abortion isn't murder since the fetus is probably not yet selfaware et cetera. My guess is that most antiabortion activists somehow rationalise it as "not so severe murder" if such a horrendous thing could exist.

    Abortion is killing sometimes, since late aborted fetuses can be saved but with high probability of severe complications, but in a good humane cause. So yes, the latest pope was insensitive and without love in this matter.

  10. Besides abortion there are a number of issues what one could hope a loving pope would take the humane side on; such as contraception and sexual behaviour.

    Apparently his followers, at least in southern Europe, didn't abide the late pope anyway since birth rate is under control. It is encouraging that the common people think for themselves and not automatically follow the common politician!

    Going somewhat off-popic I think that not being used to sex is an undue and inhuman(e) strain to a marriage. In the word of a local comic; if you are sexually compatible, love, marriage and children may happily follow! Unfortunately the Internet has become an instrument of return to catholic procedure; again many fall in love before trying sex...

  11. That should be 'sex with each other'... and in fact some Internet couples fall in love before seeing each other, which maybe should be 'a return to dowry procedure' (without dowry, of course).

  12. Torbjorn said:
    "Incidentally, I don't understand the logic in calling strong atheism a belief system, since Occam's razor would make it the basic worldview. Maybe someone can clear this up?"

    Occam's Razor does not help in this case. Clearly, a goddish religious view of the world is much simpler than the scientific interpretation, much easier to understand as well. Why there are a few hundred million different spieces on the earth? "Because God made each into existence in just Seven days." Similar to "why there are galaxies in the universe.", "Because the universe instantly inflate to huge size in just 10^-35 second".

    Science knowledge is but only a very small portion of human culture. There are two reasons for that. For one, we do not always desire the truth. You would prefer to hang a painted portrain by a no name artists, in your house, rather than a huge photograph, even the later is cheaper and represents the subject more truthful.

    For two, there are plenty of things that can not be explorered, explained, answered by scientific ways. "Is there a god" is one of them. Either conclusion can be compatible with science since science does NOT provide evidence for either side of the answer.

    Any time you make a choice to select a prefered answer in situations where objective evidence to support either side can not be provided, you fall into a religion, be it atheism, buddhism, or any one of a couple hundred different variations/versions/flavors of christianity.

    I reject all of them and would rather prefer myself to stay in the "no answer" state. But I am pretty much prepared to instantly turn myself into a worshipper of any of the thousands of available religions, should any particular shape or form of a particular god show up and perform some miracle for me to see with my own eyes, or even I would accept a convincing dream as a help. It just never happened.

    I presume whatever almighty is out there, it must have been part of his plan that he would rather prefer that I shall stay an infidel as I am now.

    It must be pointout that scientists are not immune from falling into a religion of their own creation. It happens a lot when a scientists choose to believe in a particular theory that no evidence could be provided to ever say a yes or no to the theory, and in some cases it's not even theoretically possible that any of such evidences can be found. Such belief, without the need ot evidence, certainly, is a form of religion.


  13. I hope that there aren't any Italian readers here because your steoreotype of Italians as corrupt Mafia is shocking. Most Italians are good law-abiding citizens and most of the negative steoreotypes against Italians are completely baseless.

    Even most Sicilians are good obedient law-abiding citizens who are fed up with the Mafia giving them a bad reputation.

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  15. Dear Anonymous,

    I hope that you are just joking. The goal of my sentence was to point out that it is completely stupid to say that one large European nation - like Italy - is inherently "more innocent" than another one - like the Germans.

    Claiming that the statements about corruption in Italy are "baseless" is ridiculous. Among the original member countries of the E.U. and North America, Italy is worst after Greece. There are hundreds of surveys that show it.

    Corruption in Italy

    I have no doubt that many people in Italy are annoyed by mafia, corruption, or anything else that may be perceived as wrong, but one can say the same thing about any other developed nation - and also virtually all other nations. Such observation is pretty vacuous, and numbers is what matters. In corruption, Italy is definitely worse than France, Germany, the U.S. - the countries that were criticized as problematic sources of Popes.

    There are other things in which Italy may be "better", whatever is the measure. I have absolutely nothing against the Italians, great people, but I definitely disagree with the idea that it is natural if they almost permanently dominate among the Popes.

    All the best

  16. Lumo said: Africa: Nigeria - Francis Arinze (72) - he is experienced with the Christian-Muslim conflicts, and could be able to upgrade the war on terrorism to a universal war against the Muslims

    Holy shit Lubos, did you really intend to be a cheerleader for genocide here? Because that's what it sounds like.

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  18. qt: Yes, science knowledge is a small part of culture, and it can't answer all questions.

    But this question seems to be answerable within science, and perhaps logic. Occam's razor demand that you don't introduce extraneous things. Unanswered questions are just that, explanations are not yet discovered.

    So it seems to me that it is only a matter of culture, not logic, that wikipedia has chosen the definition it has.

    Th discussion about truths value and why not experimentally/experienced truths should be used is meaningless in discussing a definition because it needs to be truthful to be useful.

  19. This news just in recently:

    I guess there WAS a holy plan in play. Prince Charles's wedding with Camilla Parker must have been frawned upon and not be blessed by the almighty to begin with. Although we the ignorants could only see now how it could be haunted, by the eventual coincidence of his wedding day and the funeral day of one of the greatest popes. Is that a pure conincidence. Will shift of one day help to rid of that haunt? We shall see. Is that superstition? Maybe, maybe not :-)

    I prayed for the Pope NOT to die on an April Fools's day, out of my respect of him. And he did avoid that day, which was a miracle considering his healthy situation.


  20. Well, you support Bush, who is very corrupt and you support the global warming skeptism lies promoted by corrupt corporations and you dare to accuse Italians for being corrupt!

    And how dare you insinuate that Muslims are terrorists!

  21. Holy shit Lubos, did you really intend to be a cheerleader for genocide here? Because that's what it sounds like.

    The only genocides I see around the world now are perpetrated *by* muslims. Ever hear about a place called Darfur? And there are plenty of other examples that don't get reported, eg in Indonesia.

  22. Fyodor, have you lost your mind? I certainly neither support genocide, nor I agree with you that the only evil in the world is perpetrated by muslims.

    Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why I would personally disapprove to elect a Pope who would attempt to bring the Muslims closer to Christianity - simply because it's dangerous.

    Moreover, I am pretty sure that I've never written anything that could have been understood the way you did. In my opinion, you reacted to the very appearance of the word "muslim" which is already a crime, according to your criteria. If things were according to you, it would be politically incorrect or even illegal to realize that 9/11 was done by certain extreme group of muslims, for example.

    Yes, if you asked me whether a significant threat for our nations and civilization comes from groups that identify themselves as Muslims, then my answer is Yes.

    I am already fed up by your hypocritical vocabulary and by the permanent attempts to obscure, twist, and spin reality, and to attack and humiliate anyone who does not want to obscure and twist reality.

    I am not gonna reply to the previous anonymous poster because I find it unproductive to communicate with people at this moral level.

  23. future I will remember to make it clear that I am *quoting* somebody when I do so, so you can be clear about who said what.....

  24. How do you pronounce Motl? motull? or mo-tlllllll?

  25. I personally pronounce it Motl. ;-) But to simplify life to others, I used a transcription "Maw-tull" once. ;-)

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  27. It's very telling when someone who has the habit of censoring a lot, or a moderator who rejects a lot of posts, even those which don't really warrent rejection choose to let a comment which many other people would consider offensive alone. In this case, the knee-jerk censorer is Lubos and the offensive post is the one by fyodor. It's very likely that Lubos secretly agrees with fyodor but daren't do so in public.

    Lubos, I don't see your criteria for censoring. Why not censor fyodor for his outrageous statements?

  28. In the context of the present discussion one cannot help but ask: is that 'Maw-tull' as in 'Mortal'?

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