There is an old saying, a fat pope follows a thin pope. What is meant by this saying is that papal styles of governance change. A pope dedicated to enforcing doctrinal orthodoxy is succeeded by a pope concerned about speaking to the world. A pope preoccupied with the great affairs of state is succeeded by a pope focused on tending the garden of the Church.
We saw this phenomenon play out in the contrasts between Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. John Paul II was the man of great and bold gestures. A theatrical pope, a pope who knew how to capture and hold the public imagination. And he was followed by a cerebral pope, an intellectual, a pope more at home writing learned books about Jesus and adorning his weekly homilies with wonderful lessons in Church history.
How will this phenomenon play out in this week's conclave? I am willing to surmise that we will see a pope elected who will look toward more progressive models of church governance. Both John Paul II and Benedict relied heavily on the curia -- the Church's top-heavy, secretive bureaucracy for much of the day-to-day running of the Church. I think we may see a pope willing to alter this governing model. I think as well we may see a pope less concerned with rooting out perceived doctrinal aberrations in the name of orthodoxy and tradition. We might instead find ourselves with a pope open to experimentation. We could see a change of tone toward homosexuals. We could see a pope encourage rather than dampen theological speculation on all sorts of interesting questions. We might, in other words, see a very different pope from what we have experienced in recent