From the Back Pew: The leadership competition

I've been quite amused by the News-Press and Burbank Leader sports departments the last couple of weeks, as all eyes were locked on our little newsroom television as it showed images of various baseball competitions played to determine who would be the next World Series champion.

Had you been sitting in my office seat, you would have been witness to some very intense arguments about who should win and why, in addition to arguments about who most deserved to clinch the title next year, what the odds are of that happening, and why.

The World Series competition got me to thinking about competition within the church — that is, the discussion that surrounds who will clinch the next papacy, cardinalate, monsignorship or pastoral assignment.

The papal election, of course, is the mother of all competitions, in my book, and the biggest example of promotion from within. For this election, the College of Cardinals will choose from within its ranks, in conclave, the next pope when Benedict XVI dies. Since the days of Michelangelo, each cardinal's choice has been a tightly held secret, known only to the cardinals and punishable by excommunication if revealed. Betting pools spring up around Rome during this time, each favoring a particular cardinal or the country the future pope will be from. (Network news also gets into the fray by analyzing the odds on whom the next pontiff might be — as if you could ever really analyze the workings of a conclave, in my opinion.) A pope from a country that hasn't had a pope in centuries can mean a great deal of pride for that country, as was the case with Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who was elected pope in 1979 and become Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in four centuries.

Cardinals themselves are chosen by the pope, and with little competition. As a cardinal, you are created and placed strategically anywhere in the world where the pope thinks you will do the most good, as is the case with our new Co-adjutor Archbishop Jose Gomez, the first Latino archbishop in many decades, who will serve a predominant Latino population of faithful. Arguments, for and against the appointment, arise. And people try to predict the future of the appointee. Will he become a cardinal? Is he a future pope? What are the odds that his appointment won't be a colossal mistake and make things worse for an archdiocese already neck-deep in controversy?

What hits close to home for me is the appointment of a new monsignor and pastor, which my parish has gone through, and will go through, respectively. Monsignors are also chosen by the pope and are announced to the parish to much fanfare and celebration. Eligible priests can apply for a pastoral assignment when one becomes available, much like an open managerial position in a company. The one with the best qualifications usually is offered the job. However, these are always a thorn in a church's side, especially when a beloved, long-time pastor retires. Will the new person be the right choice? What are the odds that the appointment won't be a colossal mistake?

This was the case with the appointment recently of Skip Lindeman as pastor of La Cañada Congregational Church. Although the church scored a home run in selecting Skip as its permanent pastor, it was not for certain that he would be that pastor. The odds were in his favor, of course, as he had already been there for nearly a decade. Just down the street at St. Bede's Church, a similar thing was taking place. Parishioners were betting that their new pastor would be a good fit. If only the betting pool was real, we'd be seeing a lot of new cars in town.

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU is a reporter for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263 or e-mail

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