I converted to the Church in April 2005, at the death of Pope John Paul II, which was profound for me. I remember being very concerned about John Paul II’s successor.
That trepidation predated my conversion, and was an obstacle. I recall a key moment in June 1998. I was a Salvatori Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. One evening, I huddled with the other fellows. They were Catholic, and I peppered them with questions. We agreed more than disagreed. We all thought the world of John Paul II. I kept asking them: What if John Paul II is succeeded by a pope who changes Church doctrine? What if this great fighter for life is replaced by a “pro-choice pope?”
Those questions will seem absurd to this audience, and did likewise to my Catholic friends, who assured me of the continuity of Church teaching, and to not worry about a new pope suddenly repudiating the Church’s major moral teachings.
Bear in mind, I was a Protestant, a member of the Presbyterian Church USA denomination. Thus, I was accustomed to the leadership of my church meeting and completely reversing long-held positions. It was standard operating procedure.
Why would Catholics be any different?
Well, when I ultimately converted that spring 2005, and stared anxiously at my TV as the new pope was announced, my eyes filled with tears of joy as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger walked upon that balcony. I turned to my wife and said, “We made the right choice.”
This time, I await the next pope with no anxiety. Who will step upon that balcony? Imagine: Cardinal Timothy Dolan strolls out, smiles, pledges himself to fight for life, marriage, and religious liberty, and takes Thomas More as his papal name. Ah, yes.
Well, whoever it will be, it will be right. Of that, I have no fear, only hope.