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Patrick Henry Reardon

For the Greater Glory of God?

Waiting around in a doctor's office a couple of years ago, I began glancing through a copy of Newsweek prominent among the magazines on his display table. The first article to catch my eye and hold my interest dealt with the advanced age and declining health of Pope John Paul II and went on to speculate rather specifically about which of the current members of the College of Cardinals might be his successor. First among cardinals more eligible for that choice, Newsweek speculated, was the Archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, an accomplished scholar, a brilliant diplomat, and the skilled pastor of the largest diocese in the Roman Catholic Church.

My thoughts strayed back some 30 years earlier, when Father Martini had been one of the very best among my several outstanding professors at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Our dean at the time, he also taught an introductory course on textual criticism, potentially the most arid subject in the entire curriculum, I suppose, but his remarkable pedagogical style fit that dry material into a lively historical narrative that gripped and maintained his students' attention through the whole semester. I can never forget the extraordinary Carlo Martini. Indeed, I type these lines while sitting under a framed copy of the degree awarded me by the Biblical Institute, and his own signature adorns that document.

But Martini the next pope? To me that would be a real first, inasmuch as I am unable to recall, try as I may, even a single one of my other teachers who was ever elected pope.

The prospect of his papal election seems massively improbable, however. In truth, it would probably be miraculous in the strict sense, something on the order of crossing the Red Sea dryshod or changing water into wine. Cardinal Martini, you see, is a Jesuit, and no Jesuit has ever been elected pope.

My suggesting the unlikelihood of a Jesuit's becoming pope may come as a surprise to some non-Roman Catholics. It is common knowledge, after all, that ...

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