Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon was fortunate enough to have had a law professor who was also a novelist; his first book, called “The Vicar of Christ” had as protagonist an American citizen, a Medal of Honor winner in the Korean War, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, then a monk until elected … wait for it … Pope!
The fictional American Vicar of Christ, Pontifex Maximus, heir of St. Peter, is only elected after a Conclave is deadlocked. Could that happen again? The front runners, according to the NYTimes, are the Cardinals of Milan, Ghana, Québec, Argentina and New York. None of them is an outright favorite, but all of them are quite traditional, within the lines of Benedict and his predecessor John Paul II, who appointed all the Cardinals who can vote.
What does the papal succession have to do with Brazil? Very little, in fact. This is because even though Latin America has 41 percent of the Roman Catholics in the world, it has only sixteen percent of the College of Cardinals, who vote in Conclave. Europe has only 277 million Catholics, the same number as Brazil, Mexico and Peru combined, but it has 53 percent of the voting Cardinals.
Moreover, the Brazilian church has long had a split personality. Back in the heady days of “liberation theology” and “ecclesiastical base communities” there were any number of “progressive” bishops—but no “progressive” cardinals. John Paul II and Benedict XVI did not brook any divergence from the official church doctrine, and appointed cardinals who supported their position.
While Catholics in Brazil have not become as “progressive” as their brethren in the U.s., it is surely true that most Brazilians are generally tolerant of contraception, abortion, gay rights, civil unions between unmarried persons, and other doctrinal “heresies”. That is not what the College of Cardinals in Conclave wants to hear. So they will stop their ears and elect a Pope who is orthodox. The Curmudgeon believes it will be an Italian, probably the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan.
The Curmudgeon’s crystal ball has only functioned once. Back in 1978 and recently arrived in Rio, when viewing a list of “papabili” (“pope-ables”) published in the Jornal do Brasil, he immediately predicted John Paul I would be elected, because … he shared a birth date with the Curmudgeon.
Speaking of crystal balls, what does one do with a former Pope who is still alive? After a bit of research (the Encyclopedia Britannica) it turns out there are two historical destinies: imprisonment in a castle or banishment to a remote ecclesiastical outpost.
In 1294, Pope Celestine V was elected in July, but by December had had enough, submitting his resignation because he deemed himself incompetent. His successor Boniface VII held him prisoner for two years till he died. Dante’s Inferno (Canto iii, 59-60), refers to Celestine as the one who “made, through cowardice, the great refusal”, and places him at the gates to Hell alongside fellow hand-washers Esau and Pontius Pilate. Harsh fate for a saint.
The Curmudgeon thinks Benedict’s fate will more likely resemble that of Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415 and was put out to pasture as Archbishop of Porto, a small town not far removed from Rome. But the crystal ball grows cloudy…
* The Curmudgeon, in the interests of transparency, acknowledges that he is a lifelong Anglican Catholic, son of an Episcopal Priest. Some of his best friends have been Roman Catholics.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)