Like so many others around the globe, Christian and non-, I'm fascinated by the decision by the pope to step down. I had no idea such a thing was possible.
Who will be the next pope?
At the moment, the odds favor Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana. Turkson, a TV star in western Africa, is warm, modest, and much beloved by his wide flock, but he's hardly averse to controversy. Last year, at an international meeting of bishops, he screened an extremely direct YouTube film about the demographic threat Muslims pose to Christendom ("In 39 years, France will be an Islamic republic").
After Turkson, the next most likely contender for the papacy appears to be French Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet. Ouellet is notable for his urging that the Catholic Church address the crisis of relativism:
In the last decades, a profound crisis is shaking the foundations of European culture. A new raison d'etat imposes its law and tries to relegate the Christian roots of Europe to a secondary plane.
It would seem that, in the name of secularism, the Bible must be relativized, to be dissolved in a religious pluralism and disappear as a normative cultural reference.
[However,] the crisis has also penetrated the interior of the Church, given that a certain rationalist exegesis has seized the Bible to dissect the different stages and forms of its human composition, eliminating the prodigies and miracles, multiplying the theories and, not infrequently, sowing confusion among the faithful.
Ouellet attributes this confusion substantially to the Second Vatican Council. "After the council," Ouellet said, "the sense of mission was replaced by the idea of dialogue. That we should dialogue with other faiths and not attempt to bring them the Gospels, to convert. Since then, relativism has been developing more broadly.” This principle -- less talking, more converting -- is no less direct in its way than that of Turkson to the problem of the diminution of Christendom relative to Islam.
These two crises intersect, of course. It will be most interesting to see what priorities the Cardinals will choose to highlight with their selection, and the extent to which internal Vatican politics will (or will not) influence the ultimate decision.
[The photo, by Alessandro di Meo of the Ansa photo agency, is of a lightning bolt that allegedly struck the Dome of St. Peter on the day Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.]