As a musician in my parish church, I am required to step into the sacristy every Sunday before Mass to take my temperature, register it on a form, and certify that I have no symptoms of the coronavirus before climbing up to the choir loft. The day the procedure was initiated several weeks ago, the organist was protesting the new policy to the priest as I entered the room. The requirement, she claimed, was “dictatorial.” I ought to have reminded her that the order came down from the bishop in Cheyenne, not the Governor of Wyoming, and that the Church of Rome (unlike the Cowboy State) is not a democracy. The parishes around the state do not elect their bishop, just as the Catholic faithful around the world do not elect their pope. It is with this fact in mind that I view the current interest in “the next pope,” the subject of a new book by Edward Pentin released this summer.
There is no reasonable objection that I can see to speculation by members of either the clergy or the laity on the occasion of the next papal election and its result. Although some Catholic critics find it impious, I am not among them. Their objections, so it seems to me, have been convincingly dismissed by John L. Allen, Jr., in “Three bogus objections to thinking about the next pope” (Crux, June 28, 2020).
The first of these, as listed by Mr. Allen, is that guessing at the identity of a successor while the current pope remains among the living is “disrespectful and disloyal” (I should add “callous” and “insensitive”), amounting possibly to a political attack on his papacy. This objection Allen dismisses by reminding us that the direction of the Catholic Church depends upon the selection of a new pope, and that “the last thing you want is for the cardinals who will make that choice—and the lone certainty here is that one day, they will have to make it—to be poorly informed about their alternatives.”