The Next Pope: An Orthodox Perspective

Presumably, the next Pope will be elected from among the 115 cardinals now in conclave in Rome. Of course, it is also possible that they could break with some 750 years of custom and elect one who is outside their college. That would be acceptable, although highly surprising. As regards who will be elected, nobody knows and it is a waste of time speculating. Obviously, Orthodox will not be consulted about the election, but we might think what general type of man we would like to be elected.

Firstly, we would like to see a man of faith, and not some swim-with-the-secular-tide conformist. This might suggest an African, or at least someone who is not from Europe. Normally, a man of faith would automatically have some sort of charisma, or presence, which he could express and communicate – that is essential. Thus, the future Pope should not look like an elderly and dreary Vatican bureaucrat, as so many cardinals appear to.

Secondly, it is clear that Roman Catholicism needs to be managed, which rather excludes the ivory tower intellectual, academic, teacher type, represented by the last Pope. However, a manager does not at all mean that the next Pope should be an accountant/administrator with an MBA. That would be a disaster. What is needed is someone who knows how to delegate the necessary management to the right people, so that he is left to perform his main task – praying.

Thirdly, Roman Catholicism surely needs someone who can distinguish between the ‘primaries’ of the Faith and the ‘secondaries’. The primaries are the Church Tradition, teachings established in the First Millennium, the secondaries are those inessential customs that replaced primaries, or else were added on to it, in the Second Millennium. The primaries include all the dogmas and teachings of the fourth century Creed, purified from the filioque deformation first confessed in Rome in 1014, nearly 1,000 years ago. They also include a sacramental attitude to the world, a male priesthood and the Biblical, Apostolic and Patristic attitude to homosexuality.

The secondaries include the introduction of such temporary and pernicious customs as priestly celibacy, which has helped to lead to sexual perversion, or the dogmatic attitude to contraception that makes almost all married Catholics into hypocrites. This also means putting back what has been taken away in the Second Millennium, restoring the original understanding of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of God, the Saints, holiness, the Church as the image of the Holy Trinity, unity in diversity, the role of the Local Church and the episcopate, the sense of the mystical and the sacred.

The above three qualities, a prayerful faith communicated through charisma, the ability to delegate management to the right people, and the ability to return to the essentials of the Christian Faith, rid of the deformations of the Second Millennium, may not be found in any of the 115 cardinals. In that case, it would be time to look outside their college. The right choice is vital – because Roman Catholicism now faces a test of survival. Either it can go the whole way and become fully secularised like most of the Protestant world, as it threatens to do, or else it can return through repentance to the Church and Orthodoxy, which it so short-sightedly abandoned a whole millennium ago. It is make or break time. May God’s will be done.