Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Will the Pope's Past Predict His Future?

While I join the many conscientious Catholics (and Catholic watchers) who are justifiably wary of the new Pope, I am reminded that one should not always assume someone's record is an infallible indicator of how they will fill a new role. Sometimes the weight of responsibility of a supreme position, its elevated perspective, or the independence of a lifetime appointment can transform a person. It was not too long ago that Rowan Williams was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, an appointment greeted eagerly by liberal followers of Anglican affairs who were familiar with some of his prior writings (e.g., on homosexuality). But rather than becoming the liberal reforming leader his record might have suggested, the Archbishop has found his calling in being "moderator in chief", struggling to navigate the difficult path of holding together an increasingly divided global communion, with his personal sympathies set aside for this goal. In the political world, many a US president can vouch for how Supreme Court justices can't always be predictable, even with a well-documented prior record. (Justice Lewis Powell, at a dinner I attended honoring his retirement, spoke of the transformative effect of being invested with great responsibility.) On the other hand, the orthodoxy of the newest Pope does not represent a firmly unchanged lifelong position so much as an evolved trajectory. The gravity of his new office may strengthen his current direction rather than transform it. As to the sort of Pope he will become, we can only hope and pray. The Spirit may yet move him in unexpected ways.

1 comment:

john said...

good points as always, tom...my concern is that he already HAS BEEN the head of the church for a number of years. Does anyone believe that the pope has actually been issuing decrees and writing letters over the past couple of years? And this is during the time that some of the most rigid principles have been reaffirmed or in some cases expanded. True, though, since he will be in the "front-office" now, and more visible, there is a chance for some softening. That is the fun; we get to watch and see.