Given his advanced age (78), it stands to reason that newly installed Pope Benedict XVI will be a “thin pope,” as tradition calls them, compared to the long and influential reign of the “thick” Pope John Paul II. Though a worthy successor to John Paul II, Benedict XVI will likely serve as a status quo placeholder while the church sorts out where it wants to go in the 21st century (though it should be noted that “placeholder popes” have a habit of being more influential than anticipated—Pope John 23 reigned for less than five years (1958–63), but due to his role in establishing Vatican II, is still probably the most influential pope on the Catholic church today next to John Paul II). Nevertheless, it is not entirely inappropriate to speculate on the successor to Ratzinger/Benedict XVI in the papacy. American and European liberals certainly hope for a departure from the conservatism of John Paul II/Benedict XVI, while the burgeoning Catholic communities in Latin America, where the majority of the world’s Catholics reside, and Africa hope for one of their number (who would probably be even more conservative than JP2 or B16).
I weighed in on the benefits of a conservative pope earlier this week, so I really don’t have much to add at this point. A pope that maintains traditional, creedal Christian teachings would, I think, be of benefit to the body of Christ as a whole. But, as a confessional Lutheran, I also maintain that a strong, conservative pope would be an obstacle to genuine reformation within the Catholic church, so, consequently, I really don’t have a horse in this race. As such, let me make a totally unserious suggestion for the next pope—Pope Bono I.
While I can’t vouch for the U2 frontman’s orthodoxy (which I suspect is lacking), you can’t deny that Bono is a man with both a faith and a mission. Even while Rolling Stone was calling U2 the band of the 80s, they were putting out albums with spiritual, sometimes explicitly Christian, messages that would put today’s Christian pop stars to shame. While he’s not exactly an evangelist, there’s no denying Bono’s faith is real. Furthermore, he’s got a diplomatic touch reminicent of John Paul II, having captivated audiences from Paul O’Neill and Jesse Helms to Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. He’s also got that old-school social gospel thing down, calling on the church to lead the fight against AIDS and poverty in Africa. And he hasn’t been shy in laying the smackdown on evangelical Christians when he believes they’re being skinflints in helping the cause. Let’s see… devoted believer (likely without the Mariology baggage), player on the international stage, sees the church as a voice for social justice, not afraid to discipline the flock…. what’s not to like?
Sure there are problems. For starters, we don’t even know if he’s Catholic (his late father was). Also, he’s been married for 20 years. But these issues, I’m sure, can be worked around. Don’t the liberal Catholics want clerical marriage anyway?
And if Bono becomes pope, his chief Inquisitioner (Ratzinger’s old post) will be named The Edge. That’s enough to put the fear of God into even this heretic.