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The BBC newsroom at full tilt at lunchtime today
Can you pope?

Posted on 11 March 2013, 21:19

I took part in Newshour (a BBC World Service programme) today to talk about an imaginary job interview for the next Pope. Or, as the intro to the programme put it: ‘Would the church stand a better chance of getting the best man for the job if they approached this as a standard job interview? And if they did, what sort of questions would you ask?’

Hear the interview here (it starts at 30:40).

Here are my top three questions. What would yours be? Comment below!

1. How’s your Italian? The Vatican is in dire straits. There’s Vatileaks. The sex abuse scandals. Losing its credit card facility in January because of EU questions about money-laundering. It’s such a nest of feuds, conspiracies and infighting that one commentator this morning compared it to the mafia.

In fact, the Vatican is in such bad shape that I’m sure a 24 hour watch must have been set on Martin Luther’s grave, just in case the old Reformer returns as a zombie to have a second go at Rome. It surely deserves it.

Sorting out the Vatican is going to be the hardest task of the next Pope, and to stand a chance of achieving anything, you have to have brilliant Italian. That’s because it’s the language of the Vatican, and anyone who didn’t have it would lack the authority to crack heads.

So although it would be great to see the first-ever black Pope, or a Pope from where the Christian faith is actually growing (Africa or Latin America), I think the crisis in the church calls above all for an Italian Pope who is angry about the ghastly state of things and is heaven-bent on doing something about it.

2. Do you tweet? We’ve just had the first tweeting Pope and I think following in the tweetsteps of Benedict XVI is going to be more critical than you might first think.

For the past three years, Benedict devoted his address on World Communications Day to social media, giving Twitter, Facebook and other channels some serious theological thought. He also offered some positive pastoral guidance. He told the world’s young Catholics to get involved, be Christians on Facebook, seize the opportunities offered by online friendship, make sure their offline and online lives were in balance.

In the past few months, he also practised what he preached by tweeting and taking questions on Twitter. He didn’t get round to sharing Instagram snaps of cardinals sitting on photocopiers, but it was a credible attempt to push the papacy into the 21st century.

So ‘Can you tweet?’ is a genuine question. You might be fine doing 10,000 word encyclicals and papal bulls and all the rest, but what are you like at 140 characters? There are only 20 cardinals on Twitter, and several of them joined just a week or two ago. So the list is small.

3. Got any skeletons? Skills are one thing, but what about the next Pope’s CV? Who is this person? What things has he done? What things has he left undone?

The top skeleton, of course, is the sex abuse scandal. SNAP – the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests – last week named a Dirty Dozen of cardinals they say would be the worst candidates for Pope based on their handling of child sex abuse claims, or for public comments they’ve made about it. Their list includes three US cardinals and nine from other countries.

SNAP has been attacked for having no credibility by the office of one of the cardinals, but it has been around since 1989 and its list has been widely reported in the media. It must have already been a factor in conversations among cardinals pre the conclave.

Since sex abuse by priests is such a devastating issue, a Pope with a clean pair of hands would be a huge asset in moving the church forward.

What do you think? What would be your top three questions to pitch to the candidates for Pope?

Photo: The BBC newsroom in New Broadcasting House at full tilt when I passed through at lunchtime today.

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