Pope Pius XIII: The gloves come off. The mask drops. Whatever showdown battle metaphor you like best, that’s what it is going to be like if the words Qui sibi nomen imposuit Pius are used to introduce the next pontiff. Going from a pope who was a member of the Hitler Youth to one who takes the name last used by a pope smeared as “Hitler’s Pope” will be . . . intense in the media. Within the Catholic Church, Pius XII is rather highly regarded, but the name still really belongs to Pope St. Pius X (1903-14), who basically fumigated the church for the heresy of “modernism.” Although it could be taken by any cardinal who comes from especially humble beginnings, as Pius X did, the name will be perceived as the return of strong-handed traditionalism. Australia’s Cardinal Pell and possibly the above-mentioned Ranjith could take this name if they are especially bold.
• Pope Boniface IX: Basically, everything said about Pius, but turned up till your ears bleed. It would be a gutsy man who took up the name of Boniface after Dante cast the imperious Boniface VIII into the Eighth Circle of Hell in Inferno.
• John Paul III: Despite what looks increasingly like a rather inept and mismanaged reign, John Paul II was beloved in a way Benedict is not. He had a knack for the grand gesture. He was also dedicated to taking the papacy out into the world in an almost unprecedented way. It is easy to imagine an American like Dolan or O’Malley taking his name, if only for the public relations benefit.
My own wish is for a pope to revive a more ancient name and legacy. The church currently needs zeal for good order, internal justice, and a dash of drama. Rather than getting penned in by the simple binaries of traditional — modern, social — spiritual, long-retired names like Clement and Sixtus, or names waiting for their second chance like Soter and Marcus could restore the sense of otherworldliness and depth to the church.
And there may be some use in those less-familiar legacies, too. In the ninth century, Pope Stephen VII had the body of his predecessor Formosus exhumed, dressed in papal vestments, and tried at the infamous “Cadaver Synod” for perjury, for mishandling church offices, and being an illegal pope. In an age of spectacular immorality in the priesthood, and high offices of the church, let us have his like again. I have several ideas for candidates and cadavers.
Michael Brendan Dougherty is national correspondent for the American Conservative.