A more important concern for Christianity and the Catholic Church is who will succeed Pope Benedict XVI. As Roman Catholic cardinals prepare to gather in Rome to elect a new pope, there is much speculation as to whether they will select an Italian cardinal or a Third World Cardinal, or even an American Cardinal. Several American clergymenare popping up regularly in the press as possible candidates, including New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolanand Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
It is the opinion of the author, that the selection of the next pope is critical to the ongoing success of Christianity and the Catholic Church in the world. It seems clear that the next pope should not only be a holy man, but should be a strong leader, able to bring the two billion Christians and one billion Catholics into the 21st century and into modernity.
Christianity and Catholicism face a number of challenges; particularly in developed countries were Christians are deeply divided concerning the proper way to respond to modernity. It seems that Christianity is entering the fourth stage of its evolution. Theologians define the first stage as the initial 250 years after the birth of Christ, when Christianity was truly an intentional religious community forced to negotiate its identity in a pluralistic world without the support of culture and without the support of state. The second stage is the long 13 centuries after Constantine, when Christianity was an established religion and the main form of culture as well as state in the West. The third stage, approximately the last 200 years, is one in which Christians struggled with cultural marginalization and political disestablishment after the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the American Revolution. As Christianity enters into the fourth stage of its evolution, Christians find themselves at a dramatic turning point of self-definition as they seek to discover which of the stages of its story best prepares it for the future in this post-enlightenment modern era.