With the death -- or, for the first time, the retirement -- of a pope the question always comes up in one form or another: Will the new pope rule as a traditionalist or as a renegade? In other words, will he adhere to the same approach as his immediate predecessors and trends or will he set a new course for the 1.2 billion Catholics whose faith will be instructed and led by this pontiff? In modern times, the answer has always been "Yes." (He will do both.)
No human institution has a longer and more revered tradition than the Roman Catholic Church. Few can trace their roots to biblical times without intermission. While other faiths -- including differing versions of Christianity -- have emerged and grown to rival Catholicism's long-held position as the "face" of Christendom, even of religion, Rome continues its dominance in world religion*. This reality gives the Catholic Church and, specifically, its leader -- the reigning pope -- a giant voice and enormous influence in the religious, and political, thinking of one fifth of the world's population. Such an opportunity wields a most frightening responsibility -- that of theoretically representing God, in Christ, to an increasingly resistant and pluralistic world.
Recent popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI specifically, have had to deal with damaging scandals in the Roman faith, in particular in America and parts of Europe. Credible arguments can be made on both sides whether they've succeeded in doing so. But suffice it to say that in an era which has seen a rise in the impact of communist China, global Islamic terrorism, economic catastrophes and cyber-weaponry, Catholicism has provided a largely helpful degree of leadership and a model of humane and thoughtful religion. Such leadership can arguably be attributed to the traditional, conservative guidance of both John Paul and Benedict.
But having said that, I would hope for a new pope whose allegiance is not merely to the Catholic Church -- with all its sway and glorious tradition -- but to the sacred scriptures which had supposedly granted papal authority in the first place. Jesus taught us in his gutsy reply to Pontius Pilate, that "you would have no authority unless it were given you from above."
If the Catholic Church is to claim that the Christian bible is authoritative (as it inherently must by virtue of its having been the source of the central doctrines of the faith the Vatican endorses), doesn't it stand to reason that it is scripture, not the pope, which carries the ultimate voice and truth of God to man?
Our hope is not in who the next pope will be but in Whom the next pope will follow.
(*Though the figures are controversial, Islam now claims the most members (1.6 billion). However, it must be noted that 97% of those reside in only three highly ethnic regions; the Arab Middle-east, Africa and South-Southeast Asia. A mere twelve countries claim 70% of the world's Muslim population. And, of course, in the majority of these regions Islam is a compulsory "faith," imposed by either governmental or social force.)