The ‘Tough Guy’ Option: Picking a Pope to Serve as Sheriff

RNS photo by David Gibson

A poster of Pope Benedict XVI on the streets of Rome. The conclave will begin on Tuesday. RNS photo by David Gibson

VATICAN CITY — Amid all of the prognosticating about who the cardinals could choose as the next pope in the conclave that starts here on Tuesday, one reliable thread has emerged: the desire to elect a pontiff who can be a pastor to the world as well as a taskmaster to the Roman Curia.

Finding such a combination in a single man, of course, may prove difficult if not impossible, which adds to the almost unprecedented level of uncertainty surrounding this papal election.

So if anything is possible, some say it might be better to reverse the prevailing wisdom — look for a pope who will talk tough to Catholics (and the world) while shepherding the Curia with a firm hand in order to better police the wayward.

The prospect might appall progressives and others who were happy to see the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, but it has enough appeal to conservatives that they are trying to make the case.

One reason for their sense of urgency is that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger turned out to be more of a papal pussycat as Benedict XVI than the watchdog of orthodoxy that he had been for decades while serving under John Paul II.

Is now the time for a pope who could be more of a Ratzinger than a Benedict?

Conservatives Vent Disappointment Over Benedict’s Papacy

Pope Benedict in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Pope Benedict in 2007. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the surprising choice cast a pall over the liberal wing of the flock and left conservatives giddy with the prospect of total victory. Ratzinger had for decades served as the Vatican’s guardian of orthodoxy, the man known as “God’s Rottweiler,” and his vocal fans were crowing about the glorious reign to come.

“He’ll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics,” the Rev. M. Price Oswalt, an Oklahoma City priest who was in St. Peter’s Square that April day, told The New York Times. “He’s going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children.”

Now, however, with Benedict set to leave office eight years later in an unprecedented departure, many on the Catholic right are counting up the ways that Benedict failed them, and wondering how their favorite watchdog turned into a papal pussycat.