A Modern Pope For Modern Times


It’s always exciting to be alive at truly historic moments, and all of us should today be grateful that they have lived to see an event that has not occurred since 1415: the Liberal party releasing a costed policy.

Ha ha ha ha! That was a funny joke, but no, seriously, the world-shaking news this week has been that Pope Benedict XVI has become the first Pope since Pope Gregory XII — known as "the Hipster Pope" for resigning before it was cool — 598 years ago, to quit the top job.

Why did he do it? In many ways he seemed to be at the peak of his powers: elderly, fragile, slow moving, forgetful; everything that a Pope should be. But then, I guess everyone dreams of going out on top. It would have been a shame to see him go the way of John Paul II, clinging desperately on to power until someone threw a bucket over him and he melted. Perhaps it is better to go out with dignity rather than die in office and have your corpse subjected to the traditional Vatican "human cannonball" funeral.

Nevertheless, the passing into history of the Bavarian Bombshell raises some thorny issues as to his replacement. Who will succeed Benedict to lead the church into a bold, confident future? Can anyone match the former Joseph Ratzinger’s sharp theological mind, his peerless ability to express occasional opinions while at the same time finding time to wave at people from a balcony? Benedict’s relatively short reign of fairly forgettable semi-achievement will be a tough act to follow.

And of course, the matter of the next Pope is extremely relevant to Australia. At the last census, 25.3 per cent of Australians identified as Catholics. That’s a big chunk of our population waiting with bated breath to see which elderly man they will be ignoring next. Not to mention the 75 per cent of Australians who aren’t Catholic who depend on the Pope to periodically make them angry by saying something about gays or abortion.

We are depending on the College of Cardinals to select a pontiff of suitable objectionability so that we don’t go too long without getting outraged about something. It’s only natural we take a keen interest in the progress of the papal election until such time as a local celebrity is caught bottle-feeding her guinea pig and sent to jail.

The process of electing a Pope is, of course, fascinating in and of itself, involving as it does a "papal conclave": a gathering of the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel in which they style each other’s hair and talk about boys. After the slumber party, each cardinal casts his vote in a secret ballot and lights up a joint.

If the joints produce black smoke, the vote has been unsuccessful and the Dean of Cardinals must roll some new ones. If they produce white smoke, there is a new Pope, who immediately mounts the official Papal Motorbike and rides out to do donuts in St Peter’s Square. It is a solemn ritual, dating back to the first Pope, St Peter, who famously denied Jesus three times, thus beginning the Catholic tradition of being embarrassed by your friends.

So who is it that the Holy Spliffs will anoint? Ghanaian Peter Turkson is an early favourite according to online betting sites, which are some of the most enjoyable ways to experience Catholicism in the 21st century. Other contenders include Nigeria’s Francis Arinze and Marc Oullet of Canada, who once said that being Pope would be "a nightmare", so he’s already well prepared.

And then of course there’s our own George Pell, who would definitely be the most hilarious candidate. Can you imagine him, standing on that balcony, with his big face grinning out at everyone, babbling about children’s smiles and cavemen? God it’d be wonderful. Imagine how Tony Abbott would react: the underpants haven’t been made that could contain him.

But look, that’s pretty unlikely, unfortunately: Cardinals tend to be a fairly conservative lot, and they rarely go for the radical choice. Hope springs eternal in the public breast, however, and already many astute commentators have called for the first woman Pope, the first gay Pope, the first atheist Pope, the first inanimate object Pope, the first talking horse Pope — and so on. Many of us are eager for the church to really enter the modern age, to think outside the Popemobile and open up a world of new possibilities.

With that aim in mind, one can think of many outstanding candidates for the post:

  • Donald Trump. As a man with great experience in the business world, Trump has experience in managing massive multi-billion dollar enterprises. Also, he could really benefit from a job where you have to always wear a hat in public.
  • Bono. What the Catholic church really needs is showmanship. A Pope who can really belt out a tune and bring some rock ‘n’ roll attitude to the Vatican, preferably with a kick ass light show involved, would take everyone’s minds off all those weird rules and men in dresses and child rapes. Those things are a downer, but Pope Bono would be a genuine upper. As a bonus, he’s already a Catholic, AND has a Latin name.
  • Andrew Bolt. As a man with a powerful and deeply felt reverence for moral authority, Bolt is the ideal candidate for any job which involves telling millions of people what to think. He would also put a stop to the creeping political correctness taking over the modern Catholic church. No more reffo-loving Maoism under Pope Bolt, that’s for sure! Finally the church could achieve its destiny as a post-racial laissez-faire capitalist utopia.
  • Taylor Swift. I just think this would be really hot.

Look, Cardinals — and I know you always read my column — this is a big decision you have to make here. Don’t allow yourselves to fall victim to hidebound conventionality and stiff-necked traditionalism. Be bold. Be daring. Be like the Catholics of old, who thought nothing of getting drunk, jumping on a horse, and riding down to Jerusalem to slice some dudes in half. Don’t be exactly like them, obviously, but absorb their spirit, and let’s have a new, different Pope for a new, different world. We want glamour. We want razzle dazzle. We want less bible bashing and more social media savvy.

Come on, Cardinals — time to get funky.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.