Father Robert Spitzer of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith on the general assemblies in Rome
HH: In keeping with my commitment to spend at least a little bit of time every day between now and the election of a new pope with someone who may actually know what they’re talking about, I am so pleased to welcome back Father Robert Spitzer, president of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith, former president of Gonzaga University, a member of the Society of Jesus. Father Spitzer, welcome back, great to have you.
RS: Thanks so much, Hugh, always great to be back on.
HH: I’d love to know your impressions as we get close to the end of the first week of general assemblies among the cardinals.
RS: Well, you know, the cardinals are keeping a very, very tight lip about what they’re doing. I think there are several agendas that need to be worked out, which probably are causing a few factions to develop. I mean, one of the agendas is going to be to do something with the Curia, to maybe simplify it, clear out the bureaucracy a little bit, to maybe bring in some fresh blood to the Curia as well as some modern techniques. So a lot of people are thinking that the administrative priority is going to be primary. There’s probably another group or faction that is looking for again a world leader like Pope John Paul II, that will be a young person who speaks multiple languages, who has a very good grounding not only in philosophy and theology, but perhaps in political theory, and is capable of kind of moving the Church the next step forward, and world culture as well as in ecclesiastical culture. And I think there is several different agendas that the people want. Certainly, there are several who want a person like Cardinal Peter Turkson, you know, who would be a more international figure. He’s from Ghana.
HH: Are there any leaves, though, Father Spitzer, that can actually be read? And in American politics, we always, you know, Carl Levin announced his retirement today. Immediately, people begin to speculate on who’s going to be the next senator from Michigan. So that model is in everyone’s blood here in American media. Does it have any applicability to Rome?
RS: Actually, it really doesn’t work that way, because various things can happen with the conclave. I mean, these discussions, they go back and forth and back and forth, and it’s just like the election of Pope John Paul II. Who knew? You know what I mean? It just, people had about ten choices that would have been far ahead of him, yet at the same time, the way the discussions went, the various agendas coming together, you know, the various factions agreeing on what was at core going to be necessary, that they wanted a young person, that they wanted somebody who might have been above the fray of the Italian Curia, things of that nature, all those things added up to a huge surprise. So I don’t really think a huge number of the tea leaves are going to be going well. I mean, I just love these websites that try to give odds.
HH: I know. Let me ask you, though, to assess the possibility, you know, impossible, next to impossible, maybe…
HH: …of having an American pope.
RS: I don’t think it’s going to be this time around. I mean, somebody like Cardinal Timothy Dolan or I would even venture to say if Archbishop Chaput, when he becomes a cardinal and others, there will be others who will be candidates who have the multiple languages, who have a PhD in an area that will really help them in the idea of world culture. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, for example, does have a PhD in history. You know, he’s…and he does have languages. And so I think the American thing is very much, the language is a barrier, because so many of our European and even non-European colleagues do have four or five or six languages that they have mastered very well. The U.S. tends to be a little short in that area, except for people who are academics. So that might not happen this time around. But one never knows. You know, I don’t want to be just throwing these names out there, but I think there is some really bright people.
HH: There is this cardinal in Brazil, Cardinal Odilo, I think is his name, Scherer.
HH: …who’s been getting quite a lot of discussion and conversation, because Brazil is such an immensely Catholic, enormous place. Have you had a chance to meet with him or asses him, or know of him?
RS: No, I really haven’t met him at all. I mean, the people who are on my ecclesiastical board for the Magis Institute would be people like Cardinal Pell or Cardinal Pell or Cardinal Levada or Cardinal Schonborn from Australia, the United States and from Austria.
HH: Austria, yeah.
RS: …respectively, yeah. They’re really terrific people. They do have the languages, but no, Odilo, I haven’t really met with, I haven’t met with Turkson, either, who’s a definite prime candidate.
HH: Well then, let me ask you, Father…
RS: …or Ouellet, who is really a North American, who stands a fairly good chance.
HH: …from Canada, Cardinal Ouellet
HH: Let me ask you, though, as a pope is unveiled in the next couple of weeks, how quickly, if at all, will the Church recognize change within it as a result?
RS: I think if it is a young and vigorous, what I would call deeply theological pope, I would say it will happen as rapidly as John Paul II, which was very, very rapid. I mean, you could feel the momentum when that man came out wearing the white hat. And for all intents and purposes, I would say that’s what would happen. If they pick somebody who is older, who is more staid, which I’m just doubting right now, I just think they’re going to elect a younger person. But if they pick someone older who’s more staid, less interested in the theological and the world culture issues, and more in the Curial issues and getting the administration in order, if that were the person selected, I would say that the change would be very gradual, and be much less felt by the world, much more by the internal administration in the Church itself.
HH: And if it was younger, do most of the jobs turn over at the Curia from secretary of state on down?
RS: Oh, absolutely. I mean, technically speaking, he can pretty much reappoint who he wishes. Now he’s going to keep a lot of those people in place, but oh, no, he has the possibility of changing things over as he wishes.
HH: And how quickly does he embark upon making new cardinals?
RS: I would probably say again a young person who is more international, who’s, let’s just say, could be from Europe, but probably not from Italy, I would say they’ll start doing it immediately.
HH: Wow. Father Robert Spitzer, thanks for joining us. I look forward to talking to you again before the conclave is over as we all look for tea leaf readers. And you’re one of mine from the Magis Center of Reason and Faith. Father Robert Spitzer, always a pleasure.
End of interview.