E. J. Dionne: ‘The best choice for pope? A nun.’

Over the weekend, E.J. Dionne — who does this sort of thing every week with David Brooks — was kind enough to write me and say he’d caught my bit on Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR, and “I wanted to tell you that you were excellent.”

Which, along with similarly kind plaudits I got from other friends and family, made my day.

While he had me, as a fellow RC he brought up Pope Benedict’s retirement, and asked whether I had read his “make a nun Pope” column.

I had not, but I went and read it immediately, and really enjoyed it. Excerpts:

In giving up the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI was brave and bold. He did the unexpected for the good of the Catholic Church. And when it selects a new pope next month, the College of Cardinals should be equally brave and bold. It is time to elect a nun as the next pontiff.

Now, I know this hope of mine is the longest of long shots. I have great faith in the Holy Spirit to move papal conclaves, but I would concede that I may be running ahead of the Spirit on this one…

Nonetheless, handing leadership to a woman — and in particular, to a nun — would vastly strengthen Catholicism, help the church solve some of its immediate problems and inspire many who have left the church to look at it with new eyes…

More than any other group in the church, the sisters have been at the heart of its work on behalf of compassion and justice. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times made this point as powerfully as anyone in a 2010 column. “In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches,” he wrote. “One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch. . . . Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.”…

Throughout history, it’s not uncommon for women to be brought in to put right what men have put wrong. A female pope would automatically be distanced from this past and could have a degree of credibility that a male member of the hierarchy simply could not…

And a church that has made opposition to abortion a central part of its public mission should consider that older men are hardly the best messengers for this cause. Perhaps a female pope could transform the discussion about abortion from one that is too often rooted in harsh judgments (and at times, anger with modernity) into a compassionate dialogue aimed at changing hearts and minds rather than changing laws.

Unborn children are vulnerable. So are pregnant women. In my experience, nuns are especially alive to these twin vulnerabilities…

There was a lot of other good stuff, about how consistent this would be with the church’s devotion to Mary, and other points. But I fear I may have exceeded the bounds of fair use already.

You might wonder, “Is Dionne kidding? He knows this can’t happen, right?” Yes, he knows it won’t happen, and no, he’s not kidding. At the least, he hopes “they at least consider electing the kind of man who has the characteristics of my ideal female pontiff.

I urge you to go read the whole, well-reasoned piece.

4 thoughts on “E. J. Dionne: ‘The best choice for pope? A nun.’

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Technically, no, even though only cardinals have been chosen since the 15th century.

    However, the pope does have to be a bishop first. But theoretically, a layman could be named, after being consecrated as a bishop. The biggest obstacle, as I read E.J.’s column, is that canon law pretty much assumes that the pope will be a man…

  2. Steven Davis II

    Does it really matter? The Pope is about as relevant as the British royalty. Nothing more than a ceremonial figure head.


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