Paul Jacob

An aging pope, holding on to little more than life itself, did not impress everyone. Not a few Catholics ? and probably many more non-Catholics ? nurtured the opinion that John Paul II should have stepped down long before his final days.

Before the late pope's death, even William F. Buckley expressed some impatience (if that's the right word) with the lingering of the pontiff. The job was not getting done.

And, behind the widespread concern for the man, not a few wondered, wistfully, whether the position should be reconstituted to support a limited term for service.

Yes, term limits. For the papacy.

It's not really that shocking of an idea. Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium even published such views in a recent book. And a number of other Catholic writers and editors ? with full acknowledgement of John Paul II's achievements in the years of the fall of Communism ? have considered the idea, respectfully, without any hint of malice. It just seems practical.

And I suppose one could cynically say that, by choosing a 78-year old successor, the College of Cardinals was, in fact, tacitly accepting Danneels's point. At that age, nature itself provides the limit. This itself provides one argument for term limits: With a term limit in place, younger candidates might become more acceptable for serious consideration by the College of Cardinals.

Now, I bring this up not to take a position. It does not strike me as exactly proper for non-Catholics, ex-Catholics, and wannabe/hanger-on Catholics to debate such concerns in public. And even actual Catholics ? baptized communicants of the Church ? should probably keep such discussion somewhat within the confines of their church and church publications, to avoid the busybodies amongst infidels, apostates, and heretics.

Why? The Catholic Church is not a public institution in the same manner that the U.S. government is. Citizens have every right and every bit of propriety to criticize their government and its leaders. But serious discussion of the inner workings of a more select organization, like the Roman Catholic Church, should be more circumspect. Outsiders really have nothing to do with the institution. The spectacle of secular Americans approving or disapproving of the late pope's successor, Benedict XVI, was far too common on the news shows and in the papers.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.