THE HE election of a new Pope is often a turning-point in the life of the Church. For while her mission is eternal and unchanging, she pursues it in time and in history and therefore has to adopt different methods to suit different circumstances.
Looking back at it from so close, we may feel that Pope John's Pontificate marked such a turning-point. If it is taken with that of Pius XII; it will almost certainly go down in history as such.
But Pope John died leaving a lot of unfinished business. The Vatican Council, the crowning-point of his short Pontificate, is only half-way through its work: we have yet to learn whether it is to be allowed to complete it. The attempts to reach a modus vivendi with the Communists, a task which dominated the last weeks of Pope John's life. are suspended in mid-air. A new Pope may or may not wish to pursue them.
A new spirit has been engendered in the Church at large but it has not yet been embodied in an organisational framework. We will not know for some time whether or not that will be done.
But it was not by his policies alone that Pope John won so much love and respect for himself and so much regard for his work. No policies, however good, can be "put over" by precept alone. It was Pope John's wonderfully warm personality and example which enabled him to do so much in so short a time.
In electing a successor, the Cardinals will be influenced by many considerations. The ceremonies associated with their enclosure are now largely meaningless remnants of tradition, but the fact that they were once found necessary reminds us that a Papal election is subject to political as well as religious and other influences.
Stalin's well-known sneer about the powerlessness of a Pope missed the mark. For a Pope, though a spiritual ruler, is also powerful politically and his election must take into account the great,issues of international politics.
Next week's conclave will be among the most predominantly non-Italian in Papal history and there has been a great deal of speculation as to whether a non-Italian might be elected Pope, breaking a 440-years-old tradition. In deciding this, it is evident that political considerations will play an important part.
For most Catholics, the main question will be whether the new Pope, of whatever nationality he is, will wish to continue the trends which Pope John represented. Many of them, notably the new attitude towards the "separated brethren", are probably too well established to be reversed now. But others are still not firmly enough rooted to survive without continuing support. Those Catholics and non-Catholics who have been encouraged by Pope John's leadership will. hope and pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the Cardinals to choose a successor who will continue the good work of the Pope we have so lately lost.
IT will take all Mr. Macmillan's considerable ingenuity to find a way out of the difficult dilemma the Profumo affair has landed hint in. For he must either confess to ignorance of the facts which seemed to have been common knowledge in Fleet Street (and this would be a grave reflection on our security services) or he must admit that he did not act on them. Either way he will bring clown on his head the vituperation of the Opposition and the understandable wrath of the electorate.
On the face of it, the most culpable aspect of Mr. Profumo's conduct was not his immorality but his deliberate attempt to hoodwink Parliament and the people. For we are all capable of giving way to human weakness, but a Minister of the Crown, especially when making a personal statement in the House, is rightly expected to be above deliberate lying and calculated misrepresentation. It is the insinuation that everything is not above board in high places, that the people are being duped and ignored, which has been the most disquieting aspect of a tawdry affair. The man-inthe-street has got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that our politicians and administrators are morally corrupt as well as incompetent and that they are united in disdaining the opinion of the people. This feeling is not confined to one party. The whole trend of public opinion seems to be that everything in politica is rotten, that our parliamentary democracy is being turned into a sham, that the electorate is dismissed as passively amenable to promises of a better time and as incapable of analytical thought.. It would be ridiculous to base such a mountain of suspicion on the molehill of the Profumo affair. But the reason that the Profumo scandal has caused such an upheaval is precisely because it is regarded not as an isolated case but as just one known example of a general condition which is largely unpublicised. One can, of course, link a decline in political standards with the decline in the country's importance. When government is dealing with affairs of first-rate importance, it is liable to produce first-rate men. And while political scandals have by no means been unknown in our parliamentary history, it is rare to find one which has caused so much anxiety as the present one not for its own sake but for the fact that it is seen to be symptomatic. On these grounds. it is perhaps just as well that the present affair has become public property. It may lance the abscess which many people feel is pullulating at the core of our political system.