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Hugh Hewitt: Choosing the next pope

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“Hopefully he will be a pious man,” Cardinal Francis George told John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter last weekend. “Hopefully he’ll be an intelligent man,” the cardinal said.

“He should have a good open personality, which is very important,” he added. “But all that comes together with the question, can he govern in Christ’s name?”

Cardinal George’s musings on the next pope lead to an emphasis on the ability to govern. Many who are commenting on the approach of the conclave understand “governance” issues to mean courage to sweep a huge broom through the Roman Curia.

It should mean much, much more. The world is in the middle of a governance crisis, with governments paralyzed and falling all across the planet. “Failed state” was once a term reserved for Somalia, but it is now a category with many nominees.

Even stable governments like ours are grinding through exhausting collisions of immovable interests. They prove incapable of doing obvious things supported by three quarters or more of the voters of both parties, and they suffer jam-downs via courts that are clearly anti-majoritarian, as with the redefinition of marriage.

A pope who could govern, and teach by example the art of governing, would be a terrific thing.

So too would be a pope who could evangelize against modernity’s harsh attacks on religious faith and especially religious freedom, even as he engages in the urgently necessary “new evangelization” that is the topic of George Weigel’s powerful new book of the same name.

George Weigel is the most informed American layman on the state of the Roman Catholic Church, and his book’s delineation of the divides within the church is not to be missed.

Far more important, however, is his conclusion that “lukewarm Catholicism has no future.” If the cardinals genuinely agree with that assessment, they will seek the pious, intelligent, good and open governor that Cardinal George describes, but those will be attributes of a passionate man of faith, one ready to demand of the world respect for an ancient institution upon which progress was built and in which the truth of the Gospel resides — if not exclusively, then certainly for the longest duration.

The man needed in these times is a truth-telling pope — one fully equipped to use the tools of modern technology and willing to bring to Rome with him the talent to energize an old and in some cases corrupt bureaucracy; to put a match to all of the fuel that John Paul the Great and Benedict XVI have built up.

Think about this: The next pope is almost certainly going to be on his throne when the world’s confrontation with radical Iran occurs, with all that might mean, and as North Korea moves from beta to development and export of nuclear weapons. He will certainly be there as the West decides whether its attachment to religious liberty is at an end.

John Paul II arrived at exactly the right moment to help — some would say guide — Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at a time of crisis. The partners of this next pope are not yet known, but pray the cardinals give the world a leader of extraordinary ability and energy.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at


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