Breath of Fresh Air

The Church now operates like a major corporation

When I was working as a city engineer in my senior years, I found occasion to advise younger coworkers about some curious issues. When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, the Church was in the midst of electing a papal successor. Because I was known among my fellow workers as a practicing Catholic, into austerities like a monk, one inquisitive coworker wanted to know why I shouldn’t be elected Pope. He was serious, and that gave me pause.

“In ancient times,” I said, “the only requirement was being a baptized Catholic male. Technically, if that were still the case, hundreds of millions of men like myself would be eligible to be pope. But the Church eventually changed the law so that now candidates must be at least ordained bishops.”

“Why the drastic change?” he asked. “Peter was an uneducated fisherman.”

“Good question. The Church now operates like any complex major corporation that prefers to promote its in-house, experienced peerage. St. Peter didn’t have to know the intricacies of canon law, high finance, and political diplomacy. Times have drastically changed.”

“Well, God knows the church needs a breath of fresh air and you would have made a good pope.”

He made me wonder if changing the prerequisite for elected popes was such a good idea. After the 15th century, only cardinals—pampered princes of the church—could be elected pope, and that may well have caused cycles of moral decline in the hierarchy. Sexual and financial scandals surrounding some of its ranking members parallel the defects and scandals of European royalty. Only princes of the Church can elect a pope.

Just being a cardinal is not enough. Papal candidates must belong to hierarchical cliques to accrue enough votes. Once elected, a pope’s actions can have ramifications for generations, especially if he appoints many cardinals—in a not-so-subtle version of Medici-style nepotism—to pack within the College of Cardinals some like-minded successors.

The Mystical Body of Christ, suffering from that suffocation, desperately needs a breath of fresh air — a breath from the Holy Spirit.


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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