Historian Appleby weighs in on John Paul II's successor

by James Warren

In the January-February Foreign Policy, Historian R. Scott Appleby offers an intrepid attempt to persuade the College of Cardinals about whom they should pick for the next Pope. Presumably hoping they subscribe to this fairly highbrow publication, he writes them a faux letter.

Secularization, the struggle for “the soul of Islam” and a need to upgrade Catholic education in the face of genetic engineering and other biotechnology changes are the three pressing challenges facing a successor, writes Appleby, who’s the John M. Regan Jr. director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame (presumably, he uses small type on his business card).

On secularism, he argues that a successor must concede that “religious faith is increasingly seen as counterproductive (at best) in a world seduced by material wealth, skeptical of truth, and wary of authority.”

As for Islam, he sees it as both the Catholic Church’s “main rival for adherents and potential ally against a purely materialistic concept of human development,” but warns that a new boss in Rome should shrewdly avoid a Vatican tendency “to turn a blind eye toward fascist and authoritarian elements within its own house and in the house of its putative ally.”

Appleby believes that the next pope can be “the architect of a Christian-Muslim dialogue” that fosters real alternatives to policies violating Catholic social teaching, such as policies “serving the common good rather than narrow interests.”

On the challenge of science and bioethics, he notes the church’s image as a frequent nemesis of “unfettered scientific research” and argues it hasn’t solicited the involvement of “the best lay Catholic ethical and scientific minds” into formal Catholic teaching to confront tough questions posed by new technology.

The fellow he wants may not exist. But if he does, the job description includes a huge intellect; knowledge of politics, economics and science; an ability to deal with everybody from World Bank officials to Bono and agnostic politicians; a real understanding of Islam; and a savvy hold on Catholic institutions of higher learning and how to incorporate insights from the universe of biotechnology. If Appleby gets his guy, give the cardinals a freebie trial subscription to Foreign Policy.

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