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The next Pope won't be another Benedict XVI...or John Paul II

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 28, 2013

Cardinal Dolan was very perceptive, I think, in his comment that the cardinals need to “work through some grief” before they can concentrate on the task of selecting a new Pope. It will take a few days, at least, to adjust to the reality that Benedict XVI is really gone.

One’s first instinct might be to say that the cardinals must find someone else like Pope Benedict. But that’s probably not right. In 2005 the Holy Spirit called Joseph Ratzinger to the Petrine ministry. Now, in his last dramatic statements, Benedict has told us that the Spirit is calling someone else.

And that’s just as well, because there isn’t anyone in the College of Cardinals like Joseph Ratzinger. There isn’t anyone like Karol Wojtyla, either. For nearly 35 years we have been blessed with the leadership of two towering figures, two world-class intellects. It’s unrealistic to expect that trend to continue. The Church doesn’t always need a great philosopher or theologian in the apostolic palace; sometimes what’s needed is just a firm hand at the helm of Peter’s barque.

In 2005 it was clear that Cardinal Ratzinger was the outstanding figure among the cardinals, and the conclave’s first order of business would be to decide whether he should be the next Pope. This time there is no single prelate of the same stature, and it might take much longer to sort out the possibilities.

Cardinal Dolan was also quite perceptive, I might add, in his listing of the attributes that an ideal candidate would have. (Interesting, isn’t it, that he mentioned the need for a good working knowledge of English? That’s important, certainly, in this age of the social media, when English is the common language of the internet.) Cardinal Dolan might be only a longshot candidate himself—although I wouldn’t dismiss his chances!—but he could be a very influential figure in shaping the result of this conclave.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Marty01 - Mar. 06, 2013 1:21 PM ET USA

    I hope we will be surprised by joy in our new pope

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Mar. 01, 2013 9:51 PM ET USA

    It is important the next pope speak English, but also that he not be a US citizen: everything a US prelate would say or do would be immediately suspect around the globe for obvious reasons. Someone like Cardinal Ouellet of Quebec is a better choice. He is fluent in English (and Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and Italian) and very smart. But his chief merit is that he fought secularism in Quebec, the most appalling religious desert on earth. He knows the enemies of the Church well.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Mar. 01, 2013 12:29 PM ET USA

    Contrary1995--I hope you are right. The election of a Jude the Obscure to the papacy would be a blessed sign indeed. Besides Cardinal Dolan, who among the College of Cardinals even has much public visibility?

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - Feb. 28, 2013 5:34 PM ET USA

    It is very true that we have been spoiled by the Lord these last 35 years. Actually, all the popes from Pius VII onwards have had their strong points and were impressive in different ways. Over all, there have been more papal Chester Arthurs than Washingtons or Lincolns. The Lord gives His Church bright shining stars when the night is darkest.