In the new papacy, there will probably be more continuity than radical change. Don’t expect female priests next month. But the Holy Spirit can always surprise us, as it did with the 1958 election of John XXIII, whom the cardinals thought would be a “do nothing” pope; instead, he convened the Second Vatican Council, which transformed modern Catholicism. Everyone was also surprised by the 1978 election of John Paul II, the first non-Italian in centuries.
While the cardinals will be loyal to the pope, the new pontiff, once elected, has no one from whom to take his cues. He has to think, consult and pray before each big decision. Where that will lead him is anyone’s guess.
5. It doesn’t matter who is elected pope; nobody listens to him.
While the pope can no longer command absolute obedience among the faithful, he is still the leader of an organization with more than 1 billion members. What he says and does matters, whether it is regarding the Middle East, AIDS, climate change or many other issues that touch not only Catholics but everyone.