By E. J. Dionne

The Best Choice For Pope? A Nun

February 18, 2013 12:35 pm Category: Memo Pad 20 Comments A+ / A-
The Best Choice For Pope? A Nun

WASHINGTON — In giving up the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI was brave and bold. He did the unexpected for the good of the Catholic Church. And when it selects a new pope next month, the College of Cardinals should be equally brave and bold. It is time to elect a nun as the next pontiff.

Now, I know this hope of mine is the longest of long shots. I have great faith in the Holy Spirit to move papal conclaves, but I would concede that I may be running ahead of the Spirit on this one. Women, after all, are not yet able to become priests, and it is unlikely that traditionalists in the Church will suddenly upend the all-male, celibate priesthood, let alone name a woman as the bishop of Rome.

Nonetheless, handing leadership to a woman — and in particular, to a nun — would vastly strengthen Catholicism, help the Church solve some of its immediate problems and inspire many who have left the Church to look at it with new eyes.

Consider, first, what constitutes the Church’s strongest claim on public respect and affection. It is not its earthly power, the imposing beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica or even its determination to preserve its doctrine. Rather, the Church impresses even its critics, and inspires its most loyal and most dissident members, because so many in its ranks walk the talk of the Gospel. Hundreds of thousands of nuns, priests, brothers and laypeople devote their lives to the poor, the marginalized, refugees, the disabled and the homeless, simply because Christ instructed them — us — to do so. Matthew 25:40 contains what may be the most constructive words ever written: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me.”

More than any other group in the Church, the sisters have been at the heart of its work on behalf of compassion and justice. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times made this point as powerfully as anyone in a 2010 column. “In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches,” he wrote. “One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch. … Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the Church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.”

Kristof went on to say that “there’s a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans.”

There are certainly bishops and cardinals who have done this sort of godly work and many more who have supported it. But those who have devoted their lives to climbing the Church’s career ladder tend not to be like that nun in the jeep in Swaziland. What a message the cardinals would send about the Church’s priorities if they made such a woman pope.

A sister as pope could also resolve what might seem a contradiction in Catholic theology. More than Protestants, Catholics are profoundly devoted to the Virgin Mary — and few were as devoted as the late Pope John Paul II, who declared that Mary “sustains the spiritual life of us all, and encourages us, even in suffering, to have faith and hope.” A Church for which the Blessed Mother plays such an important role should certainly be comfortable with female leadership.

While support for a stronger role for women in the Church tends to be a “liberal” cause, many faithful conservatives also cite the work of nuns as reinforcing their devotion to the Church — from the sisters who educated them in parish schools to the work of Mother Teresa’s religious order.

The cardinals who will gather to elect a new pope know that one of the Church’s central and most wrenching problems is the sex abuse scandal. An all-male hierarchy adopted policies to cover up the abuse and seemed far too inclined to put protecting the Church’s image ahead of protecting children.

Throughout history, it’s not uncommon for women to be brought in to put right what men have put wrong. A female pope would automatically be distanced from this past and could have a degree of credibility that a male member of the hierarchy simply could not.

Pages →  1 2

The Best Choice For Pope? A Nun Reviewed by on . WASHINGTON -- In giving up the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI was brave and bold. He did the unexpected for the good of the Catholic Church. And when it selects a ne WASHINGTON -- In giving up the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI was brave and bold. He did the unexpected for the good of the Catholic Church. And when it selects a ne Rating:

More by E. J. Dionne

The Blue-Collar Imperative

Can Democrats overcome the politics of resentment and save their Senate majority?

Read more...

When Government Was Good

Meet one of the Democratic Party's rising stars.

Read more...

Citizens Disunited

Big money is breaking our politics.

Read more...

Tags

Comments

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7DKWSXHQIDBW5PUAPZ2HZAYYUY Baron Cormac

    EJ, remember the rules. It specifically says a baptized male in communion with the Church. Doesn’t say an age, but there hasn’t been a minor (i.e. under 18 year old) pope in almost 1000 years.

  • Sand_Cat

    If “the spirit” is just another name for the omnipotent, omniscient, beneficient creator and maintainer of the universe, how could you – or anyone else – possibly be ahead of it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.vila.1 Dominick Vila

    Funny. The chances of the college of cardinals electing a female Pope are as slim as my chances of a round trip to a remote galaxy. I would not be surprised, however, if they choose a cardinal of Spanish or African ancestry to appeal to parts of the world that remain loyal to the Catholic Church.

    • CPAinNewYork

      Mr. Vila:

      I don’t think that “the world” really cares who becomes Pope. The office is an anachronism.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/CVVR3SYDWGMOSYJBUXICDDK74A Doctor T

      Think EJ was being facetious, Dom.

      • CPAinNewYork

        I didn’t detect any irony.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    There’s a wonderful book, “La Popessa”, about an Austrian nun who was the only female ever to enter a papal enclave. This was due to her enormous influence with Pope Pius XI. I thoroughly enjoyed the account in this book. It certainly was an eye opener in how much women can and do influence men up to and including the world’s most renowned leaders of the Catholic Church.

    The Catholic Church will never risk the loss of its male domination. It’s based upon the origins of belief that men, not women, were intended to lead the church. Of course, this is conjectural since the history of the Catholic Church was written nearly exclusively by men, for men and to men.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/CVVR3SYDWGMOSYJBUXICDDK74A Doctor T

      Don’t you find it peculiar that he is retiring to a nearby “convent” that looks rather impressive? Maybe he is really a woman in a man’s clothing! Just a joke!

  • CPAinNewYork

    Mr. Dionne must be chewing psychedelic weeds. Women cannot become Catholic priests and Dionne thinks they have a shot at becoming Popes.

    • lkreu

      That is the one of the biggest problems with the Catholic church not have women in any kind of powerful positions (like priests). The nuns are the only ones worth anything any more – they do all the work and are in the present century.

    • adriancrutch

      It’s a nice thought! But,probably just a jab at the old white man GOP. They need the jabbing to keep their circulation going.

      • CPAinNewYork

        What does the GOP have to do with electing a Pope?

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/CVVR3SYDWGMOSYJBUXICDDK74A Doctor T

          My question too….

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/CVVR3SYDWGMOSYJBUXICDDK74A Doctor T

      You left your sense of irony at the latte shop today I see.

  • Pamby50

    I would vote for Sister Simone from nuns on the bus. The Catholic church will never do that. So I think we’ll keep her so that she can be a thorn in the side of the republicans.

  • itsfun

    Yep; lets make the church politically correct now. Where do you get these writers?

    • whodatbob

      That is funny! As a Catholic I don’t think the Church knows the meaning of “politically correct”

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/CVVR3SYDWGMOSYJBUXICDDK74A Doctor T

        Funny! And correct! Like I just found out that cremation is now “OK” but you can’t have your ashes scattered. Reminds me of the mortal sin of eating meat on Friday and if you died without confession you would rot in hell. Then they changed the rules. I asked, what the H double hockey sticks happened to all those people who were burning in the eternal fire pit because they ate a burger on a Friday and didn’t make it to confession after being hit by a bus? Retroactive absolution? I hope so! This and the pedophile issue makes the church a big joke.

        • whodatbob

          You bet! I could see satan all PO’ed as he lost million of souls that ate meet on Friday. I like retroactive absolution! Got to remember that one. It’s not the Church but the bozos who run it that are the joke. Well maybe they are the Church. Most of us stumple through life, can not expect more from them or our govermrnt.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/CVVR3SYDWGMOSYJBUXICDDK74A Doctor T

      May be a stretch, but are you on the fringes of common sense?

scroll to top