Harkin: Latino pope would be "great move in the right direction"

Senator Tom Harkin, a lifelong Catholic, believes it would “send a strong signal to the rest of the world” for the church to select a Latino pope as successor to Pope Benedict XVI next month.

Douglas Burns wrote up Harkin’s recent remarks on a conference call for Des Moines’ Cityview weekly.

U.S. Sen.. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a Catholic who graduated from Des Moines Dowling Catholic High School and Catholic University Law School in Washington, D.C., said the church should consider a Latino pope as a successor for Pope Benedict XVI who announced last Monday that he will resign effective Feb. 28, setting up a papal conclave for March.

“I think it would be a great move in the right direction,” Harkin said of the prospects of a Latino pope.

Harkin’s remarks came during a conference call with Cityview and other media.

“I think it would send a strong signal to the rest of the world,” Harkin said. “I think it would give a new face to the church to do something like that.”

At least two cardinals from Latin America may be considered at the conclave: Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina and Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras.

Being Jewish, I don’t have a stake in who becomes the next pope. But since Catholics in Latin America outnumber European Catholics, and the majority of American Catholics will be Latino before long, I think it would make sense for the cardinals to select the first Latino pope.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, “About 60 percent of Catholics in the United States believe that the next pope should come from a developing region of the world such as South America, Asia or Africa.” Only about a quarter of the world’s Catholics live in Europe.

Harkin told reporters on the conference call that the pope of his lifetime he most admires is Pope John XXIII, best known for calling the Second Vatican Council.

“He opened up the doors and really moved the church forward,” Harkin said. “Since that time, the windows seem to be getting closed again. So I think we need to again revive the spirit of Pope John XXIII, open up the church more, and don’t be afraid of a proliferation of different views and ideas. I never did buy the idea that it was going to get stronger by becoming more narrow and demanding more orthodoxy.”

Robert P. Jones wrote an interesting piece for the Washington Post on what American Catholics want from the new pope.

American Catholics are divided on whether the church should focus on conserving tradition or adapting to modern culture. According to Public Religion Research Institute, more than 4-in-10 (42 percent) American Catholics say that their church should preserve its traditional beliefs and practices;  however, a majority say either that their church should adjust traditional beliefs and practices in light of new circumstances (37 percent) or adopt modern beliefs and practices (16 percent).

[…] A solid majority (60 percent) of American Catholics agree that the Church’s public policy statements should focus more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor, even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion and the right to life. Less than one-third (31 percent) disagree, saying that the church should focus more on abortion and the right to life in its public policy statements, even if it means focusing less on social justice and the obligation to help the poor. This emphasis persists even among the most loyal churchgoers: a slim majority (51 percent) of Catholics who attend church at least weekly agree that the Church should emphasize social justice over abortion and the right to life.

Feel free to share any relevant thoughts in this thread, whatever your religious affiliation or lack thereof.

  • popes

    I was in Iowa when John Paul died and Ratzinger was elected. The thing I remember most vividly is that everybody asked me if I was proud that a German would be the next pope. As a practicing Catholic, who always enjoyed being member of a universal church (not necessarily in the meaning of catholic but global), I found that assumption to be ridiculous, because I wanted somebody that shares my values that church should be open and not narrow (just as Harkin describes it in the article).

    So while I agree that picking somebody from Latin America might be seen as a signal, it’s just way more important for me that there won’t be a doctrinal orthodox catholic who is afraid of worldly things. (we have the great German world of “weltfern” to describe it).

    8 years ago I was asked by the Iowa City Free Press Citizen about my feelings for John Paul II. and I answered that I found him “a little too conservative” and wished that the church would reconsider their stance on women and contraception. While that is still true today, it seems way more important for me that the church will again focus on economic issues and global development. I find it disturbing that the only thing many American bishops talk about is same sex marriage and abortion.

    • I wonder whether the cardinals

      would ever select someone with the kind of worldview you describe. I don’t know a lot about Catholic history, and I would be interested to know how Pope John XXIII became committed to opening up the church. Did he take that “agenda” into the job, or is it something he decided to do after getting a view of the church from the top?

      From my outsider’s perspective, I find it remarkable that the Second Vatican Council ever happened.

      • an educated guess

        it seems that they just didn’t screen the cardinals back then for ideological purity. Here in Germany we hand quite a few and still have some moderate to liberal bishops, but for about 20-30 years now, Rome has tried to bring more conservative candidates. As a sitenote: The way bishops are selected varies. In Germany for instance local diocesan chapters may send lists to the vatican of people they consider appropriate, than the vatican sends back a list of three people and they elect the bishop from this list. It actually goes all back to a series of treaties the vatican concluded with German states in the early 20th century, the last one ironically concluded with Hitler. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C…

        Regarding electing someone like John XXIIII again I guess the best hope is that they elect somebody who might have a change of heart on some issues at some point or that they will turn to somebody who they perceive will do a lot reform vatican bureaucracy and who is coincidentally a bit more moderate (I dare to speak about liberal, there are by my knowledge less than five “liberal” cardinals left)

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