Wednesday: Popular American Culture and Politics

White Smoke, Red Shoes.

In the wake of Monday morning’s pontifical proclamation, the news sources blew up.  Interested or indifferent, the onslaught of information and speculation hit the airwaves.  “We’re shocked!” said half the world. 

Whether or not Papist prevarications interest you, here’s what you should come away with.

1. It isn’t often that a man who has risen to a seat of inestimable power, one with no expiration date or end clause, has the good grace to step down when he needs to.  Pope Benedict XVI is getting up there in years, and his doctors recently advised him to 86 the transoceanic trips due to his health.  For the past 600 years no one has thought to resign from the papacy, and even then, Gregory XII’s resignation had to do with schism, not chrism.  It’s an office you keep until it kills you.  And no one knows that better than it’s current occupant, a great church historian.  So what does this move mean?  Well, maybe it means that a man has put the importance of his office in front of self-importance.  And while it’s concerning that that sounds so tongue-in-cheek when talking about a spiritual leader of much of the free world, it’s remarkable.  I can think of some other heads-of-significant-organizations, commercial, social, or otherwise, who could use a little self-awareness.  (Too-big-to-fail corporation heads, I’m looking at you.)  Because when you can’t fulfill the needs of the job, you shouldn’t keep it.

2.  Change is coming.  Maybe not in the scale we’d prefer, but at least a little bit.  Because the College of Cardinals is going to flock together beneath Michelangelo’s masterpiece and start a discussion.  There’s going to be politics, and publicity.  There’s going to be peacocking, and there will be humility.  But what’s most important is that there will be talk.  Change doesn’t happen when there isn’t discussion.  Don’t get too excited – I’m not talking about women priests and contraception clearance.  But there are more Cardinals from outside the old-school arena of Europe and Europe and Europe than there ever have been before.  And the front-runners offer some (comparative) diversity.  One comes from Quebec.  One from Brazil.  The one from Milan is a leader in Catholic-Islamic dialogue, and he clears 1 day a week to talk to members of the public that want to speak with him.  You know, just because.  (Archbishop Desmond Tutu isn’t on the shortlist, unfortunately, but he sure would have my vote, especially after this chat with the Dalai Lama:

3.  New Yorkers can get loud, and it can make a difference.  There’s this dude named Archbishop Dolan.  Maybe you’ve heard of him.  Wears a dress, walks around St. Patrick’s a lot, not afraid of the camera.  Back in the late 70’s, it was partially the loud rallying cries of a Philadelphian Cardinal that helped shake up the status quo and elect a Polish Pope.  JPII became arguably the most travelled, communicative popes in history.  Archbishop Dolan is the talking head to keep an eye on this time around.  What he says, and the way he says it, will make a difference in what the final vote tally is.  Americans are the new kids on the block in this game, but when you have a loud, well-spoken, charismatic New Yorker, isn’t it inevitable that people will stop and listen?

Election 2013 might pave the way for new things in an old scene.  It all depends on who’s wearing the red shoes after the white smoke goes up the Sistine Chapel chimney.

Until next week,


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