It is said that just about the only advice Pope John Paul II gave on how to choose the pope to succeed him was this: pick the person who is "most suited to govern the universal church in a fruitful and beneficial way."
One thing working for the candidacy of Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany (who is said said to be the frontrunner) is the fact that, at 78, he is not exactly at the prime of his youth and, if elected pope, would probably serve for a single-digit number of years in contrast to Pope John Paul II's quarter-century reign as the Roman Pontiff. (Click here for an interactive presentation of just how a pope is elected.) In his sermon just before the cardinals convened into a conclave, Cardinal Ratzinger inveighed against moral relativism and issued a call for orthodoxy. He was probably alluding to the many affronts to Catholic orthodoxy that have been gaining momentum these past years --specifically the feverish campaign for same-sex marriages in the West, the call for female priesthood and the socialist temptation of the Catholic doctrine.
The question though is this: are the above issues really the most pressing and historically significant ? I think not. Contraception, for one, is one battle the Church has already lost. Among the laity, there is also no burning desire to see women ordained. Pope John Paull II may also have successfully buried liberation theology in the dust heap of Latin American history. And as for same-sex marriages, it must be recalled that in its early beginnings the Catholic Church battled prevalent homosexuality in the Roman world and it was so magnificently successful in its campaign that by the time the Enlightenment engulfed Europe, the Judeo-Christian tradition has irrevocably supplanted that which was inherited from the Greeks. The Church can do again what it successfully did in the past.
The moral and ethical issues that should preoccupy the clergy and the next papacy should be those of science. Arguably, the scientific discoveries of our time mirror that of the discoveries in the time of Galileo Galilei, who supported the Copernican system and was persecuted by the Church for it. (Pope John Paul has apologized for this moral failing.) What was cosmology then is biotechnology now. It would further the faith if the next pope has great rapport with the scientific community.