Pope John Paul II's funeral is over and as the huge crowd of mourners makes its way home from Rome, the College of Cardinals is getting ready for the serious business of picking his successor. There is a great deal of speculation in the press about who the next Pope will be and whether he will continue the previous Pope's style of authoritative "top down" leadership or usher in a new era of participation by the laity. Will the next leader of the world's Catholics finally allow female priests, married priests, and loosen his opposition to birth control? Or will he continue to uphold traditional sexual mores and gender roles?
I have a word of advice for the liberals. If, when the white smoke clears, you don't have Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger or Cardinal Francis Arinze as your new leader, consider it a big win.
Pope John Paul II was one of the longest reigning popes and he had plenty of time and opportunity to appoint fellow traditionalists and to shape them in his mold. So, it's already a stacked deck.
If I were a politically smart cardinal (and make no mistake about it, the Vatican is full of politically sophisticated clerics), I'd pick Arinze.
Besides the fact that, like the most recent Pope, he has a genuine compassion for the poor and has reached out to the Muslim community of his home, Nigeria, which is going to be very important to the future of interfaith relations, his appointment will slow down the momentum of the American left and knock them off their game.
It would put them in a real quandary because American leftists hate going up against blacks, especially Third World blacks. Acutely sensitive to charges of racism, they would try to straddle the fence, attempting a delicate balancing act between opposing Arinze on the issues, and launching a personal attack on him as they sometimes did John Paul II. They would be loathe to come out swinging in a real battle for fear of looking bigoted or elitist.
I think some of the cardinals from Latin America, Asia and Africa are tired of having the West dictate its ideals and morality to them. They are eager to reassert a more traditional Catholicism. And as with the African and Asian leaders of the worldwide Anglican community, they are genuinely offended by liberal western morality, which seems to go against the very teachings of Scripture as they interpret it.
I also think some of what is behind all the honors and accolades being heaped upon Cardinal Bernard Law in this week's ceremonies, where he has played such a prominent role, is that the international community of cardinals is eager to put the clamorous Americans in their place.
Many of these cardinals are not sympathetic to the child abuse scandal involving American priests. Indeed some have openly blamed the whole scandal on our media and an anti-Catholic plot. They show short patience for American Catholics, whom they consider disloyal for bringing these pedophile priests to public attention and to legal authorities.
There is outright disbelief that it happened at all and scorn for the victims. That's what is fueling all the public honors being award to the disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law. This is the cardinals' way of closing ranks behind one of their own and rubbing the spoiled and overprivileged Americans' noses in it.
So, when the puffs of white smoke finally rise up over the Vatican, don't be surprised by the outcome. However, now might be a good time for American Catholics and all other Catholics who are genuinely disgusted at a Church that protects child molesters, reviles victims, and values its own power and perogatives more than truth to start thinking of an exit strategy.
You finally have to ask yourselves, as I did, does the Holy Spirit really guide these people and was this really intended to be the only road to salvation, keeping your mouth shut and blindly obeying men you know are both wrong and arrogant?