Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On Talking About the Next Pope's Death

Listening and reading all of this babble about the new Pope, I'm struck by how frequently folks mention that the new Pope will likely be dead soon enough. Let's just look at what some of the country's major newspapers are saying.

Here's what the Dallas Morning News has to say:
At age 78, Benedict may not rule the See of Peter for long, but a governor with papal powers can accomplish an enormous amount in a short period of time.
The LA Times is even more confident of the Pope's imminent demise:
The quick election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger speaks quiet volumes about what cardinals seek from the new pope: a stable interregnum after 26 years under the charismatic Pope John Paul II. Benedict XVI will hold to the late pope's theologically conservative line, but he won't do it all that long, giving the church a breather in which to plan its future. At 78, he is among the oldest men to assume the papacy.
The New York Times, unlike the LA, at least leaves open the possibility that the Pope won't certainly be dead soon:
The new pope is, at 78, not likely to serve long enough to have the kind of impact his predecessor had. But the church has seen men elected as supposedly transitional figures in the past turn into agents for sweeping change.
I understand that selecting the next leader of an estimated 1.1 billion person institution is bound to evoke analysis and commentary. And I'm also aware that we talk about public figures in a way that is different from how we would talk about our dads (not to be read as fathers, in this instance!). But, nonetheless, it seems a little unseemly and tacky to be talking about the death of the newest Pope, when the old one hasn't been in the Basillica's basement for more than three weeks! Decorum, after all, seems as noble a virtue as any other.

Update: Well, as inappropriate as I think talking about the new Pope's future death is, it seems the Pope himself would disagree. Apparantly he told some Cardinals not to expect him to be around too long:
Chicago Cardinal Francis George said Ratzinger, who had repeatedly asked John Paul to let him retire, told the cardinals, "I too hope in this short reign to be a man of peace."
So, go ahead, newspapers, speculate about his death till he's blue in the face!


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