By Mick Krever, CNN
Becoming the pope is not a popularity contest.
When 115 cardinals from around the world sit down to choose a new pope, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday, they are thinking about only one thing: what God wants.
“You have your ballot in your hand,” he said. “You’re going to put it in the urn, this ballot in which you have written a name down of one of the cardinals.”
Looming above the voting cardinal is Michelangelo's imposing fresco, “the Last Judgment.”
“Every time you do it,” Cardinal McCarrick said, “you feel that same thing. ‘Lord, am I doing the right thing? Have I picked the right man?’”
In other words, he told Amanpour, “You don’t pick your buddy.”
Cardinal McCarrick is the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington D.C. Though he attended Pope Benedict XVI’s packed final public address today, he will not be able to cast a vote for the next pope. He is, to put it politely, of a certain age – only cardinals under age 80 may vote.
Through those many decades in the Church, he has seen the ups and downs. As the Vatican prepares for a new leader, many Catholics around the world believe that the child-sex abuse scandal, among others, spell a reckoning for the Church as it has rarely seen before.
“I accept there is a crisis, but I don’t think this is the only crisis. The crisis is the world that we deal with,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “There’s a secularism in our society. That’s the crisis that maybe more than anything else the Church is facing today.”
But for Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who is facing fresh allegations of covering up abuse, the crisis is unavoidable. Thousands of pages of Church documents detailing the alleged cover-up were recently unsealed by court order.
Despite petitions from many American Catholics, he has decided to attend the conclave in Rome.
“We make mistakes,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “But I know Cardinal Mahoney, and I think this is a good man who wanted to do the right thing, and who felt at the time this was the right thing to do. Turned out he was wrong.”
For Catholics like American writer Mary Elizabeth Williams, with whom Amanpour spoke on Tuesday, the Church leadership in Rome has grown hopelessly out of touch with believers on a range of issues.
Chief among those is the leadership roles, or lack thereof, available to female Catholics. Cardinal McCarrick, however, held out little hope for women hoping to become ordained.
“I’m a man of faith, and I’m a man of the Church, and I don’t see that that’s going to happen,” he said.
Another concern for Catholics hoping for a more representative Church is demographics. A growing number of the faithful are from Africa, Asia and Latin America, but the Church has seldom strayed from Europe in choosing a pope.
“I think there are so many wonderful bishops and cardinals from the third world,” Cardinal McCarrick said of choosing a non-European pontiff. “It would be certainly a beautiful thing to have, to show the universality of the church in that particular, personal way.”