An American Pope?


Is an American “papabile”?

That’s the discussion I’ve been having on Facebook all morning, thanks to this fascinating article by Sandro Magister.

Magister writes:

Timothy Michael Dolan, archbishop of New York, 63, is a larger-than-life man from the Midwest with a radiant smile and overflowing vigor, precisely that “vigor of both body and mind” which Joseph Ratzinger recognized he had lost and defined as necessary for his successor, for the sake of properly “governing the barque of Peter and proclaiming the Gospel.”

In Benedict XVI’s act of resignation there was found already the title of the program of the future pope. And many cardinals were quickly reminded of the visionary vivacity with which Dolan developed precisely this theme, with his “primordial” Italian, his words, but scintillating, at the consistory one year ago, when he himself, the archbishop of New York, was preparing to receive the scarlet.

Magister goes on to tell of two opposing forces within the cardinal-electors: Those who like business as usual within the Curia and those who think business as usual will be the death knell of the New Evangelization.

The former forces, Magister alleges, are coalescing around Cardinal Scherer of Brazil, while the latter are looking to Dolan and two other cardinals from North America: O’Malley of Boston and Oullette of Quebec.

Now, in 2005, all this talk of an American pope would have been dismissed out of hand as crazy talk. Which it would have been. Certifiable crazy talk.


But not this time. Three reasons.

1. Sandro Magister is the one doing the talking in this particular article.

Not Katie Kouric. Not Piers Morgan. Not Soledad O’Brian. When it comes to inside baseball reporting from the Vatican, there are few voices more trustworthy than Magister’s. He’s not always right, but he knows a lot more of what he speaks than the rest of us armchair pundits in the States do. If he’s talking about it, it means men in red hats are talking about it too. And not just at the North American College.

 2. The Curia is a mess.

I know this. You know this. I’m pretty sure my seven-year-old niece knows this. Between the incessant leaks, bumbling administrative decisions, interminable bureaucratic holdups, and a public relations machine creakier than an octogenarian’s knees, the Vatican has become known throughout the Catholic world (ever so affectionately) as a veritable cesspool of incompetence.

This is head-poundingly, mind-numbingly embarrassing. It’s also a major stumbling block to effectively carrying out the work of the New Evangelization. Which remains, Benedict or no, the priority for the Church in the years ahead.

In order to aid and abet that end, however, we need a cleaned-up, more faithful, more efficient, and more dynamic Curia, capable of speaking the media vernacular of the day.

It’s true that efficient bureaucracies and savvier PR machines will not save souls or build a culture of life. But they sure would make saving those souls and building that culture a whole lot easier.  Which brings us to…

 3. Catholics around the world respect Americans more than you think.

Stop rolling your eyes. Seriously. They do. Mind you, I’m not saying baptized Catholics in France who haven’t darkened a church door for a generation respect Americans more than you think they do. Nor am I saying that they respect Americans as a general category. But faithful Catholics around the world do respect what’s been happening in the Church in America for the past decade or two.

Those Catholics, cardinals included, look at our lay apostolates and our publishing houses, our cable networks and radio shows, our newspapers, magazines, and journals, our packed youth conferences and lay dominated parish and diocesan staffs, and they wish they had them too. They marvel at the structures the Church in America has supporting and advancing her work, structures that most of us take for granted but which simply don’t exist most anywhere else. Our Catholic brethren from around the world respect us for building those structures. They admire the structures. And they want them too.

If anything, many Catholics abroad hold the Church in America in too high regard. They think things are better here than they actually are. They give us too much credit.

But credit they do give us. And many have come to America to spend time with us and learn from us. This is particularly true when it comes to how we do pro-life work, but it’s true with other aspects of Church life as well, from youth ministry to Theology of the Body conferences.

All of which is to say, that it doesn’t require a wild stretch of the imagination to see how a sizable slice of the cardinal-electors are thinking that an American could best whip the Vatican bureaucracy into shape.

If the task at hand were whipping the Vatican kitchen into shape, they’d call the French. If it were the Vatican gardens that needed pruning, an Englishman would do. For sartorial questions, Italian options abound.

But food and flowers and fashion are not the issue of the day. Fidelity and fundamental questions of organization are. And while Americans might not pass muster on the first three counts, we do on the latter two. Increasingly, with flying colors.

So, maybe, just maybe, Tom Crowe is right. Maybe it is Dolan’s time. Or O’Malley’s. Or Burke’s. The next few weeks will tell. If an American is elected, it will still be a surprise. But it shouldn’t be a shock.

Emily Stimpson is a Contributing Editor to “Our Sunday Visitor” and the author of “The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years.” Her next book, “Everyday Theology of the Body: Musings on the Mysteries and Manners of the Sacramental Worldview,” is due out later in 2013 from Emmaus Road Press,

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Emily Stimpson is a freelance writer, based in Steubenville, Ohio. She writes regularly on all things Catholic, with a special focus on the Church’s teachings on marriage, sexuality, and femininity. A contributing editor to Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly and Franciscan Way Magazine, her books include "These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body" and "The Catholic Girl's Survival Guide to the Single Years: The Nuts and Bolts of Staying Sane and Happy While Waiting for Mr. Right." You can read more of her writing at  

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