Rodney Baxendale: It doesn't matter what our faith is, we all need the Pope
If all goes according to recent experience, in the interval between writing this article last Wednesday, and publication today then "Habemus Papam", "We have a Pope".
Why should this matter to me, a non-Roman Catholic?
Why should it matter to the non-Roman Catholic world?
Why indeed should a Muslim, a Sikh, a Jew, a Hindu, pause for a moment to remember the name that will be pronounced from the famous balcony in the Vatican?
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Beyond the world of theistic faith a large secular order of scientific rationalists will perhaps scoff at the amount of media space that will be given, while also grinding their teeth at such a profile: what do they have to do to get such leverage on the popular imagination?
The truth is, we all need a Pope, even if he's not ours. W
e need him, because we all need deep and intelligent thinkers to muse over the great matters of morality, to pronounce on them, and thus give us material to choke on or affirm over our cornflakes.
We would not know what we think without them, unless we are a member of that tiny group of original thinkers that grace each generation.
Anything that compels logical and creative thought is an absolute good, whether it be the pronouncements of a Pope, a politician, a plebeian.
Only by debate do we move towards a better perception of truth: without it, we moulder and atrophy.
Besides, this election is essentially unprecedented: Pope Benedict's courageous decision to resign has made it thinkable for his successor to be in his fifties, to give his best and most productive years to the Papacy, rather than be trapped by history into a slow and painful decline before the world.
It has made it possible to conceive of a radical Pope, a non-European: sadly, not a Pope Joan II.
Perhaps in the future there will be two exclusive clubs at the highest level: former US Presidents and former Popes – both honoured, both bound to silence. Oh, to be invited to dinner…
Rodney Baxendale is Head of Pastoral and Spiritual Care, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust