At the printing of this publication, reports of the Pope’s ill health abound. The entire world is watching and waiting as they glorify this man. What has he done for the Catholic Church and the world? What will his death mean, and who will be the next Pope? How will this affect you?
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Most today would question, as they do with religion in general, the relevance of the Pope in a world of global economies, technology, and terrorists and dictators who seemingly must be fought unilaterally.
And so we ask: What is his significance on the international scene? What can he do about the world’s problems?
As the current Pope, John Paul II, slowly fails in health, the world more closely examines what he has done for the Catholic Church, the direction he has taken the church, and the course he has set for it. He has, as we will more closely look at, almost completely appointed all members of the Sacred College of Cardinals—the body that will elect his successor.
Again, we ask: Who will be the next Pope? How will he compare to John Paul II? What are the implications?
Concerns over John Paul’s ill health increased recently as he ordained 31 new Cardinals months earlier than expected, and a few high-ranking church officials made statements to the press that his time was drawing short. As recently as October 25, Daniel Williams reported in The Washington Post on one of his recent public appearances, “He can’t speak clearly or for long and can barely gesture. His head slumps until it rests on his chest.” Three Cardinals, Ratzinger, Sodano and Sandri, have been appointed to speak for him and to even appear at certain functions in his place. Mr. Williams’ article continues, “Pope John Paul II has become a preacher who cannot preach, the latest and clearest sign that his reign over the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics is nearing its end.”
The speculation and analysis of who will be the next Pope has been occurring for upwards of two decades, likely beginning when Pope John Paul II began showing signs of Parkinson’s Disease. Among all of it, one thing is evident (and we will see why later): The next Pope will more than likely be very similar to the current one.
However, to see where the Catholic Church is headed, we must see where it has been, and take a brief look at who and what John Paul II is and was.
Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla (upon accepting the role, each Pope chooses a new papal name) in 1920 to Karol Sr., a retired army officer and tailor, and Emilia Kaczorowska, a schoolteacher of Lithuanian descent, John Paul II spent most of this childhood and teenage years between his birthplace, Wadowice, Poland, and Krakow, Poland. At a time and in a place such as that, he was immediately exposed to a very volatile and violent world. In the 16th century, Poland had been a large and rich country in Europe, but slowly and painfully lost that superior position over time.
For two centuries, up to the fall of Communism, Poland and its people had been victims of the Germans, Austrians and Russians. Poland was constantly divided and devoured by its neighbors, and it was in the end of this tumult that John Paul grew up. By the age of 20, he had lost all members of his immediate family and turned his life to the Catholic Church.
The Polish Catholic Church was intensely authoritarian, orderly and hierarchical, and the priests who made it so molded Wojtyla into the Pope we know today. Notice: “Those who have been lifted through the ranks become hierarchical and authoritarian in their turn. As Pope, John Paul II has paid assiduous attention to his appointments (virtually all of his bishops share his views), and has never shrunk from using his power against whatever is egalitarian, inchoate, and disorderly” (PBS Frontline: “John Paul II—The Millennial Pope”).
Also interesting is the description of arguably the most important of all his “spiritual” mentors, Jan Tyranowski. The relationship began in 1940, at a weekly discussion group in the parish church. Tyranowski was, as Helen Whitney describes him, “a strange man—a forty year-old tailor with white-blond hair, a high-pitched laugh and piercing eyes. Neighbors spoke to us about his oddness and intensity” (Ibid.).
Tyranowski’s recruitment of young Catholic men off the streets of Krakow for his “Living Rosary,” a prayer circle and theology discussion group, was aggressive. He insisted on asking the young men intrusive personal questions, alarming some. But Wojtyla was enthralled by Tyranowski’s persona and the power of his philosophies.
Mieczyslaw Malinski, an eventual priest and seminarian friend of Wojtyla’s, recalls the meetings: “Every moment of the day was organized around activity and relaxation. We were asked to keep detailed records of our prayers and thoughts. Tyranowksi took us through each stage very calmly and methodically until we reached the central core of his teaching—what he called the plenitude of inner life.”
Many consider the papacy of John Paul II to have been one of restoration of the Catholic Church. The Vatican Council II (1962-1965) shook the church to its core, and he went immediately about re-grounding it in its conservative traditions. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the Catholic magazine First Things, said in this regard, “This pope has the church in a stronger position than it’s been in since the Protestant division in the 16th century. When has the Catholic Church had as much respect as it does today?” (CNN Biography, “Pope John Paul II—The Papal Years”).
Despite objections, Pope John Paul II has supported conservative Catholic groups such as Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ. This September, in a message addressed to Peter Hans Kolvenbach, superior general of the Jesuits, Pope John Paul II reminded the Society of Jesus of the special bond that unites them to Rome.
The Pope wrote, “This is an opportune occasion to better discover, starting from its origins, the charisma that joins you intimately to the See of Peter. St. Ignatius’ [the Society’s founder] inspiration to foster ‘greater devotion to obedience of the Apostolic See’ retains its full value at the beginning of this third millennium. You must be witnesses and agents, in all parts of the world, of the catholicity of the church, which is the sacrament of Christ in the midst of men” (Zenit News Agency).
One important legacy of John Paul II is that of turning his attention and office, and thus the Vatican and church, toward the whole world. Up until his reign, popes and the Vatican were consistently introvert in nature, focusing much of their time and attention inward, concerning themselves largely only with church affairs.
Thomas Reese, editor of America magazine and author of the book Inside the Vatican, said, “It used to be that the pope stayed home in Europe. But in his travels and use of the media, this pope has brought a lot of attention to his role in helping and encouraging the church around the world” (CNN Biography, “Pope John Paul II—The Papal Years”).
Interestingly, The Economist indicated that due to the amount of his travels, he has delegated a lot of authority to the Curia, the Vatican’s conservative core. John Paul, however, has been instrumental in making the world’s business his business—and thus the church’s as well. In his book, Papal Power, Australian priest Paul Collins stated that this has created “an entirely new situation in church history: the seemingly omnipresent papacy.” We will later see the great importance of this significant shift.
In making that shift, John Paul has managed to seize the high moral ground in world affairs and portray his office as an authority to be reckoned with. This is particularly the case, and will be increasingly so, with the decline in strength of the United Nations. We have seen this specifically in regard to the recent U.S.-led war in Iraq. Just before the war broke out, the Vatican re-issued its position, claiming that any military intervention would be considered a “crime.”
Archbishop Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, had this to say on Vatican Radio: “It is a crime against peace that cries out vengeance before God.”
In another statement that week, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said, “Those who decide that all peaceful means that international law makes available are exhausted assume a grave responsibility before God, their conscience and history” (Zenit News Agency).
An earlier Washington Post article indicated that the Vatican would consider the U.S. the “aggressor” nation. One got the sense from these statements that the Roman Catholic Church is anticipating, and even working toward, becoming the official moral judge of the world and would be—at some point in the near future—in a position to “punish” the perpetrators of said or similar “crime.”
On a front closer to home, the Pope has been stringent with insisting that the new European Constitution not only mention Christianity as a “foundation” of the continent, but that those peoples as a whole return to their Christian and Catholic roots. In a lengthy exhortation to the church in Europe this past summer, he practically insisted that “Catholic countries” such as Italy, Spain, Ireland and Poland work harder to implement the Vatican’s desire (BBC News).
During a visit to Spain in May 2003, Pope John Paul II expressed his hope and desire that Spain’s Catholic legacy be used as a template for the new Europe. His words were, “I am certain that Spain will contribute the rich cultural and historical legacy of its Catholic roots and values to the integration of a Europe...” (Zenit News Agency). Upon evaluating this trip, Pope John Paul II announced that the Roman Catholic Church would do everything necessary to maintain the “Christian values” of Europe. He said, “This fifth apostolic trip to Spain has confirmed a profound conviction in me. The old nations of Europe retain a Christian [Catholic] spirit, which constitutes a whole with the genius and history of the respective peoples.”
The Pope had told a crowd of 700,000 young Spaniards, “You will be my witnesses.” He explained that he had “exhorted the Christians of Spain to remain faithful to the Gospel, to defend and promote the unity of the family, to preserve and renew continually the Catholic identity that is the nation’s source of pride,” and reaffirmed, “It will be in virtue of the perennial values of its tradition that that noble country will be able to make its contribution to the construction of the new Europe” (Zenit News Agency).
On a more international level, the Pope has continued to work toward Christian reconciliation and unity, while offering it to the world during the recent times of terrorism and war. He said this past spring, “In a world situation filled with danger and insecurity, all Christians are called to stand together in proclaiming the values of the Kingdom of God.” He went on to say that the “quest for full communion among all Christians is a duty which springs from the prayer of the Lord himself.”
When he was visited by an ecumenical delegation of Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Anglicans from the San Francisco area, he said, “At a time of conflict and grave unrest in our world, I pray that your witness to the Gospel message of reconciliation, solidarity and love will be a sign of hope and a promise of the unity of a humanity reborn and renewed in the grace of Christ” (Zenit News Agency).
We have seen what has made John Paul II the Pope that he is. We have seen some of the priorities that he has set for the church and worked on. He has to a large degree set the course for his successor to follow. The major issues of Christian unity, the Catholic Church as a moral judge of the world, and the United States of Europe are all “works in progress”—the Vatican and the next Pope will continue where John Paul II leaves off.
Although the life experiences of the Cardinal who will be the next Pope will certainly be different, the end result will be something very similar. Whether this Cardinal rose through Catholic hierarchy in Europe or South America, he has been shaped and molded by the same very strict and traditional environment—the Catholic Church.
Of the 135 cardinals, Pope John Paul II has ordained all but five of them. Hence, he has to a large degree controlled the selection of the next pope. It is more than likely that the voting cardinals will select a new Pope who is similar to his predecessor—strong-willed, autocratic and an arch-conservative. In addition, although the ratio of nations represented in the College has changed significantly with John Paul as Pope, it is still very much European at 48.9 percent. Also, John Paul II was the first non-Italian Pope in 456 years—there is some indication that the College may be ready to return to its roots.
According to Thomas Reese, editor of the Catholic magazine America, three factors will be important in the selection of the next Pope. Firstly, the cardinals will not choose a young Pope, as John Paul II (who has been Pope for 25 years) was when first appointed. There is reference to a desire for a “transitional” Pope, one who would closely follow the example set and remain relatively conservative, to provide time for the church to “digest” the previous papacy. Secondly, the next Pope must be able to speak several languages, with English and Italian a must. And third, he will have to have a good public presence—an ability to speak to the world through the mass media and, to a certain degree, exert control through it.
Despite a saying in Rome that goes, “To enter the conclave a pope is to exit a cardinal,” following is a list of cardinals who have been mentioned in various media as front-runners (source unless otherwise indicated: Christian Science Monitor, “Experts Ponder Papal Succession”):
Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, Italy —close to Opus Dei (Newsday.com, “The Men Who’ll Pick Next Pope”).
Cardinal Francis Arinze, Nigeria—the sensationalism of a black Pope will probably be too rich for the cardinal’s conservative palate (CNN Biography, “Pope John Paul II—Succession Overview”).
Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Belgium—a unifying figure acceptable to both conservatives and progressives.
Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Brazil —theologically conservative, considered one of the strongest Latin American candidates.
Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Colombia—favorite of arch-conservatives.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, Germany —favorite of progressives, currently head of ecumenical affairs for the Vatican.
In the end, though, as Robert Moynihan, editor and publisher of the magazine Inside the Vatican, puts it, “In the Vatican, those who talk don’t know and those who know don’t talk.”
We can be relatively certain that the next pope will follow closely in the footsteps of John Paul II. The course and priorities that he has set will be continued. Whether this next papacy is relatively short, providing a time of “transition,” or not, we can also be certain that it will go according to the great Plan of God.
The accelerating of world events, as part of the path of God’s Plan, may dictate that the next Pope, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church make drastic changes. Or rather, world events may provide the church with an opportunity that they are patiently awaiting.
A great new superpower, as the seventh and final restoration of the Holy Roman Empire, is indeed rising in Europe, and the Pope and Vatican (as the “little horn” of Daniel 7:8, 20-22, 24-27) will play an integral part in its domination of the entire world!
Whether it is this next Pope, or the one after, a future Pope will head the Roman Catholic Church, depicted as a whore in Revelation 17, riding a seven-headed beast, the seventh head having ten horns (vs. 3). (To learn more, read our free booklet Who or What Is the Beast of Revelation?)
It may be this Pope who will be given powers by the god of this world—Satan the devil—as the “false prophet” (II Thes. 2:3; Rev. 16:13; 19:20) along with the civil ruler, the “king” of this empire, “...working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world...” (Rev. 16:14). It may also be this Pope who will even lead the world to worship this beast, and eventually deceive mankind into fighting Jesus Christ at His Second Coming (Rev. 16:9, 13-14; 17:13-14).
Several cardinals have recently indicated a need to treat the large cities of modern Western society, soaked in materialism and individualism, as new missionary territory. How this will be accomplished remains to be seen, but it will prove to be interesting. Events may dictate Europe to submit, either eagerly or passively, but Britain and the United States will have to be forced.
We live in exciting times! To most, they are even fearful times. But that need not be so. The knowledge of God’s Plan will bring confidence. If you are concerned about the Pope and the Catholic Church, and if you are interested in the world’s near future, read carefully the contents of this magazine and the recommended literature. Ask God, the Creator of all things, for understanding.
Near the end of His prophecy in Luke 21 concerning this time just ahead of us, Jesus Christ warned and commanded in verse 36, “WATCH you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to ESCAPE all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”