Is the world ready for a black pope? Or a latino one? Or even an American one? Pope Benedict the 16th, the eve of Lent, said he was stepping down because of age and declining health, and hats off to him. His Holiness saw the toll it took on John Paul the 2nd, who actually was a year younger than Benedict is now when he died, and realized it takes someone with more vibrance and energy to lead the largest and oldest Christian denomination in the world. Some think New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan might have a chance to succeed him. Or, as Father Steve Verhelst at St. Mary's Church in Willmar told me, a pope with links to or even from The Third World, latin America or Africa, would be welcome. That is where the church is seeing it's greatest growth, and maybe having an African pope would be what is needed to check the spread of Islam in that continent. While Catholicism, and Christianity in general, seems to be on the wane in "developed" countries and "The West", where we seem to have all we need and no need of a god that tells us what to do and what we're doing wrong, it's growing where there is still weeping poverty and misery like starvation, small pox and polio and malaria. In other words, a place in need of hope. The media, and maybe rightly so, has done a great job making the Catholic Church look like the "place to be" for pedophiles, turning the public against it. At the same time the public and the media is screaming for gay Boy Scout leaders and gay marriage. Some may say, "it's about time" while others can't help but see a rotten moral core to society getting greener, hairier and stinkier by the day. Father Verhelst says he hopes the new pope has an ear to hear what Catholics have to say and is tuned to the modern world, while still respecting church traditions. I don't know if that's possible. The "Third World" is certainly more conservative than "The West" and a pope from there would almost certainly continue to fight against openly gay clergy, gay marriage and female clergy. Maybe that's what Christianity needs...someone to make a stand. Or it could be the nail in the coffin of a church outsiders see as out of touch with the "modern world." Good luck making your choice, Cardinal College. I have to believe the future of the church, more than ever, rides on your choice.
Back in the 80s then-Governor Rudy Perpich engaged in a battle of words with our neighbor to the west, then-Governor Bill Janklow of South Dakota. Probably the best quote to come out of that tete-a-tete was from Perpich who said "South Dakota is 50th in everything." Janklow and Perpich are both gone now, but Sioux Falls continues to advertise in Minnesota about what a great business climate they have. Now a new war is erupting to our east. Wisconsin is run by Republican Governor Scott Walker, and a Republican legislator from Osceola Wisconsin recently sent Minnesota businesses letters urging them to cross the border to the land-o-cheese for a better tax climate. The letter forecasted Minnesota's high tax climate will get worse, especially for businesses, under DFL Governor Mark Dayton's proposed budget that, according to some, has 16 dollars of tax increases for every dollar of budget cuts. In his State of the State Address last night, Dayton mockingly said "Wisconsin is open for business." Then said of all the upper midwestern states, Minnesota has the second highest economic growth (behind the skyrocketting North Dakota) and Wisconsin was last. Dayton said St. Croix County, right across the border, had a 20% higher unemployment rate than Minnesota and 12% lower income. We'll see what the next volley from Scott Walker, Tax-less Ranger will be. On another topic, have you noticed how gas prices have gone up in lock step with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which is flirting with 14,000? No matter what the oil companies tell you, the fact is, oil prices go up when they think the economy and consumer confidence is up, and they think people will pay the prices without too much complaint. It doesn't matter that oil is flowing out of North Dakota at a crazy rate and the U.S. will soon be the leading oil producer in the world...the oil companies run things, and they will stick it to us until we stop buying their product.