Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
The pre-conclave era has its first bumper crop, unsolicited advice for the new pontiff and the Church. Following the laws of supply and demand, the value of this crop is diminished by its very abundance. As such, I am reticent to throw my golden nugget onto the pile of leaden advice, yet I must.
I have no advice on what geographical region from whence the new Pope should ascend, nor do I care about the color of his skin. I don't know if charisma need be among his charisms. I would not presume to tell the future pontiff or the cardinal-electors what should be the focus of his pontificate.
Orthodoxy aside, there is one thing and one thing only that I would ask from our new pontiff. Holy Father, when you die, you must die as Pope.
While I have no doubt that Pope Benedict renounced the Petrine ministry with a great deal of discernment, prayer, and with the best interests of the Church foremost in his mind, a repeat performance by his successor would begin a very dangerous trend.
Moreover, I would strongly suggest that the new Pontiff make it clear early in his pontificate that he will not abdicate his ministry but in the case of complete and permanent incapacitation.
To do otherwise runs the risk that all future pontiffs will face immense pressure, both internally and externally, to abdicate at a certain age or perceived levels of vivaciousness. This would be a horrific development for the papacy.
The vivacious Father Rutler warns "In an age of dangerously limited attention spans and fickle loyalties, there is a danger of proposing that popes last only as long as people want them." Seconded.
Under normal circumstances and particularly during the waning years of a pontificate, the Vatican bureaucracy can stifle, impede, and frustrate. With internal and external pressure to abdicate, this effect could be magnified to the point where bureaucratic tarry becomes termination.
In effect, pressure to abdicate when a Pope's energy diminishes proportionately increases the energy needed to overcome these obstacles. The expectation of abdication can create a lame duck Pontiff, which in turn increases the likelihood of abdication. The net effect is exactly what Fr. Rutler warns against, that Popes last only as long as people want them.
So my advice to the future Pope is simple. Make it clear early and often that as long as your are able to blink instructions in Morse code, you will not be leaving the Papacy by any means other than sarcophagus. If Popes do not leave town in a coffin, they will eventually be driven out on a rail.