Pontification

By: Jeff Spector
March 15, 2013

I have always been fascinated by the selection of the Pope by the Roman Catholic Church. And certainly over the last two weeks, it has been interesting to watch and listen as clergy and lay persons in the media have been speculating about how the selection would be made.

In spite of our religious differences, the selection of the Pope to preside over 1.2 billion Catholics is of keen interest to the world as a world leader and influencer emerges from a group of Cardinals, either well known or out of obscurity.

And yet, there is a lot known about a future Pope before one gets elected.  He is, of course, a male, unmarried, celibate (or supposed to be) who has dedicated his whole life to the ministry.  Since the Vatican is located in Rome, there is always a heavy influence of the Italians on the selection of Pope, though the past two Popes have been Polish and German respectively.

The selection of the Pope is rich in tradition and pageantry to some extent, though the real work of selection was behind closed doors, out of the public view.  One can certainly quibble with the whole authority issue and the basis for which a Pope is even a legitimate position in God’s true Church. But, again, you have to marvel at the whole process.

Over the past two weeks, the media has been speculating on the likely candidates and the so-called “politics” surrounding the election. I suppose because it appears to be an election process, we tend to equate it with the sometimes hideous spectacle we call elections here in the US. And I suppose, one would be naïve not to assume there is some heavy politics involved with the selection of a new Pope.

But I have to admit I was rather struck by a comment made by one of the clergy I listened to on CNN the other day as the votes started and the black smoke rose from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel. He said that the Cardinals are praying not to decide who to vote for, but to receive revelation by the Holy Spirit on who God wants as the next Pope.  As a Latter-day Saint, I can certainly relate to that.

So, now we know that the new Pope, selected on the fifth vote, is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina. He is the first non-European Pope in 1200 years, the first Jesuit, the first from the Americas and the first to take the name Francis.  He certainly has his work cut out for him.

We can contrast the selection of the Pope with the selection of a new Prophet for the LDS Church and while they are very different, they are following their own tradition. Both are quite orderly and invoke the mind and will of the Lord in the selection.  While the current LDS tradition is an automatic promotion of the Senior Apostle to the position of Prophet and President of the Church, perhaps the resignation of Pope Benedict will cause some thought processes with the leadership of the LDS Church as to the continuation of that tradition. We will see. Change comes slowly in the Church.

I happened to be in St. Peter’s Square in Rome the week after Pope Benedict’s selection as Pope and witnessed his first Sunday morning appearance from the window of the Papal residence.  The Square was packed as it was the other night and it was an electrifying scene. I followed the crowds down into the catacombs to file passed the new tomb of John Paul II, the most beloved Pope of the past 50 years.

You cannot help but feel something in that place so steeped in history and grandeur. I am sure you all join me in extending our own best wishes and prayers for the new head of the Catholic Church. After all, some of my best friends and family are Catholic.

12 Responses to Pontification

  1. Howard on March 15, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    We can contrast the selection of the Pope with the selection of a new Prophet for the LDS Church and while they are very different, they are following their own tradition. Both are quite orderly and invoke the mind and will of the Lord in the selection.

    Their method is much better because they can match the man to the current situation our method is like a long train of “company man” rail cars. In order to select the right one God has to plan way ahead and time it just right or selectively kill them off until he gets the one he wants!

    We should change to the Catholic method but without celibacy and enjoy the best of both systems.

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  2. Syphax on March 15, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    Yes, I always thought it was slightly unfair when my fellow Latter-day Saints referred to the decisions of Papal conclaves and Ecumenical Councils as simply “dirty politics” but then the decisions of the Quorum of the 12 as “inspired meetings.” Sure, we can believe that one has the Spirit and the other doesn’t, but in practice I imagine both have political and spiritual elements. Certainly in both cases there will be dispute, possibly hard feelings, deal-brokering, etc. but also inspired compromise, love, people truly caring about the process and outcome, and people who really love Jesus Christ. When you read the various accounts of the Council of Jerusalem, it would be fair, I think, to expect for these types of meetings to be no more or less than a bunch of humans using human methods with the hope that the Spirit will ultimately guide the decisions.

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  3. ji on March 15, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    I have never heard a Roman Catholic, or a Protestant, or a Latter-day Saint ever opine on Mark 13:34 — but I think perhaps Catholics can claim it for themselves — perhaps Latter-day Saints don’t think much of it, thinking instead that the Lord is continually with us, but I tend to think it applies to us, also.

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  4. Mike S on March 15, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    I think the selection of a Pope is an amazing process. I appreciate the fact that the cardinals meet together to see who God has best prepared to lead the church given the current challenges. I am also fully convinced that they pray for the Holy Ghost to let them know God’s will as much as anyone in our own leadership.

    I do like that the system in place for the Catholic church tends to skew the leader a bit younger. The average age for pope elected in the past centuries is around 62. It is hard to imagine someone making it through the bishop -> stake president -> mission president -> seventy -> apostle -> outliving all the other apostles track by age 62. By default, we will generally tend to get an older president of the Church by default.

    Mostly, I am absolutely impressed with the choice of Pope Francis. I think the world has become far too materialistic. It is refreshing to see such a humble man promoted to lead the largest Christian church on the earth. I think Christ Himself is very pleased with the choice of a man who truly seems to live the teachings that Christ taught.

    I’m excited for all of my Catholic friends and their new Pope.

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  5. Jeff Spector on March 15, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    Though, the age of Benedict when he was installed was 77 and Pope Francis is 76. So the age thing is not really any better than the LDS. yes, there is a retirement age for Catholic Priests, but still they are just as old.

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  6. Douglas on March 15, 2013 at 4:51 PM

    I like how Ronald Reagan addressed the age issue in his reelection campaign in 1984 (he was 73). Contrasting with his opponent, Walter Mondale (who was 56), ol’ Dutch said: “some would like to make age an issue in this campaign, but I won’t let them. I will not hold my opponent’s youth and inexperience against him.”

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  7. Howard on March 15, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    I don’t know. …I will not hold my opponent’s youth and inexperience against him. Which says what about Christ and Joseph by comparison?

    Today our care taking institutionalized church Presidents tend to be 3 to 4 generations older that the youth who are droping out at alarming rates. Of course it is the youth who are wrong here! And it has nothing to do with the 60 year generation gap! Or the conservative octogenarian Utah centric viewpoint!

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  8. Rigel Hawthorne on March 15, 2013 at 7:29 PM

    “celibate (or supposed to be)”

    70% of men have ED at age 70, so if he hasn’t been celibate in the past, chances are he is now.

    However, Russell M. Nelson was 82 when he married Wendy L. Watson, and he always seems to have a smile on his face, so maybe healthy clean living would place Apostles or Cardinals in the 30% of the statistics for ED. (Not that it would do the Cardinals any good).

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  9. Howard on March 15, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    Rigel Hawthorne,
    I know several men in their 80s with a happy sex life and a happy wife! The wonders of modern pharmaceuticals!

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  10. Howard on March 16, 2013 at 5:23 AM

    He said he chose the name Francis after 12th Century saint Francis of Assisi, who represented “poverty and peace”.

    He urged journalists to get to know the Church with its “virtues and sins” and to share its focus on “truth, goodness and beauty”. He urged journalists to get to know the Church with its “virtues and sins” and to share its focus on “truth, goodness and beauty”.

    Pope Francis is becoming well known for his simple tastes: Baked skinless chicken, salad, fruit and a glass of simple wine is certainly not food fit for a king. But it is a meal fit for a pope. As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he carried his own bags when traveling, preferred public transportation to chauffeur-driven limousines, and, in one of his first acts as pope, he stopped by the hotel where he stayed before the conclave that elected him to settle his bill himself.

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  11. Jeff Spector on March 16, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    Rigel,

    “70% of men have ED at age 70, so if he hasn’t been celibate in the past, chances are he is now.”

    I was referring to his lifetime as a Priest.

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  12. Geoff - A on March 17, 2013 at 12:03 AM

    I look forward to seeing how the new pope deals with the problems of the catholic church and whether he can galvanise/inspire his members.

    I also think that if our church is to “go forth” it has to have a dynamic leadership(not just a younger prophet but team). Even to get someone in their 70s we have to bypass 10 who were born before 1933(over 80). I think there would be generational change if these 10 could be retired, and then choose from Uchtdorf, Holland, and Cook. My choice Uchtdorf!!

    Perhaps it would make sense to have a default 80 retirement age for apostles and the prophet unless the prophet were particulatly healthy and inspiring.

    We just had a Stake conferenc broadcast from SLC with the prophet as the final speaker. He told a series of stories about platoons of soldiers lost and then rescued, and similar, gave no specific advice or inspiration. There was nothing prophetic or inspiring in the whole conference. Why did we spend hundreds of thousands of man hours, and the hope of something inspirational? How many times can that happen before we loose all but the unquestioning? Had a missionary bought someone to hear a prophet guide us he would have been embarrased, and the visitor not impressed.

    So in order for the church to be revitialised we need to set a retirement age for apostles at 80, choose new apostles from a wider spectrum of experience (more like Uchtdorf), and then see what happens. Hopefully these 10 are willing to follow the old popes example. The sooner the better.

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