The Next Pope Will Be…

A few weeks ago Pope Benedict XVI resgined from his positions as the Cardinal of Rome. To a certain extent this makes sense (though its virtually unprecedented). Here are some reasons why that made sense:

  • He is old: He is the fifth oldest person to have been elected pope.
  • He is an academic at heart: Ratzinger became an academic theologian. He had a long career as an academic, serving as a professor of theology at several German universities, before being appointed a cardinal in 1977. Prior to the promotion Ratzinger had relatively little pastoral experience. Now I’m not knocking academics, I too am an academic at heart, neverthless God does grant people certain skills and passions and Academia was one of Ratzinger’s (I mean Pope Benedict XVI’s) passions.
  • He was worn down by the sexual abuse scandal: According to John L. Allen, “Ratzinger was punctilious about studying the files, making him one of the few churchmen anywhere in the world to have read the documentation on virtually every Catholic priest ever credibly accused of sexual abuse.” Having to read the horrific accounts of sexual abuse will most certainly wear you down and sap you of all the spiritual energy you might have.
  • He wants to write more: This is just my speculation but, Ratzinger is the author of 66 books, I can only imagine he wants to continue his writing ministry.
  • He never really wanted to become the Pope: According to the Gospel Coalition – “In 1997, at the age of 70, he asked Pope John Paul II for permission to become an archivist in the Vatican Secret Archives and a librarian in the Vatican Library, but the pope refused. At the time of his election to pope, Ratzinger had hoped to retire peacefully and said that “At a certain point, I prayed to God ‘please don’t do this to me’ . . . Evidently, this time He didn’t listen to me.””

So its now evident that Pope Benedict XVI will be stepping down, so the questions is:

Who will be the next Pope?

Let me speculate a bit. There are a couple of things we need to take into account when asking this question, for example we need to keep in mind that tradition and historical precedence will certainly play a huge role in choosing the next pope. For instance, only until recently all the Popes were Italian. We also need to take into account the composition of the college of cardinals, the majority of the cardinals were appointed by Benedict XVI or John Paul II. Both popes were conservative thus the next pope will also likely be conservative.  These are two important factors we need to keep in mind when speculating about who the next pope will be, but I think there is one factor that outweighs both of these factors. Namely that:

Christianity is no longer a “Western” religion.

Or as Mark Noll would put it, there is a New Shape to World Christianity. Consider the following facts from his book:

  • On an average Sunday, Roman Catholics in the US worshiped in more languages than at any previous time in American history.
  • On an average Sunday there were more Roman Catholics at worship in the Philippines than in any single country of Europe, including historically Catholic Italy, Spain, or Poland.
  • The largest chapter of the Jesuit Order is found in India.

My point is, that the Catholic church is changing. Roman Catholicism is still strong in Latin America and its growing significantly in Africa and Asia. All the while church membership is dwindling in the Western countries. And even when Catholicism exists (in a “vibrant” way) in Western countries it is a more liberal/humanistic version of Catholicism. This type of Catholicism does not capture the hearts of adherents in the global south. So what does this all mean for who will be the next pope? It means that

The next Pope will come from the “Global South.”

Catholicism is changing, its strength lies in the “Global South,” in the continents of Africa and Latin America especially. If the college of cardinals does not take this into account they will be making a grave mistake. If they choose someone from the West, it will certainly be because they have succumbed to the idols of tradition and precedence. So my guess is that the next Pope will come out of Africa.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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