I am not a Roman Catholic, by the grace of God, but in the spirit of ecumenism, I hereby offer a few possible choices for the Cardinals' prayerful consideration (although prayer is less a concern in this process than backroom politics and electioneering). The actual requirements for a person to be considered are few: it is not necessary that a potential papabile be a Cardinal, or even a Roman Catholic. It is only required that one convert to Catholicism, and be ordained a priest, prior to election.
It is also required that one be a male, but perhaps this requirement might be waived in this enlightened age. The Roman Catholic Church has already had one female pontiff, Pope Joan, a.k.a. Pope John VIII, a.k.a. Johannes Anglicus, who reigned from 855 - 858. Masquerading as a man, Joan would have reigned longer (Catholic Popes don't "serve;" they "reign," the Church being a primarily political institution), had she not suffered the embarrassment of suddenly going into labor during a public procession, and being beaten to death by the understandably startled onlookers. (The Catholic Church disowns Joan as a "legend," of course, but that's standard operating procedure.) Thus, perhaps the time is ripe for another female Pontiff. In any case, considering the requirements (or lack of them) mentioned, here are a few suggestions for the Cardinals' consideration:
Fred Phelps. Pastor of the tiny Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, Phelps is notorious for his congregation's picketing and persecution of the funerals of soldiers, massacred schoolchildren, and other victims of disaster; and, of course, for his insistence that America (if not the world) is being judged by God for its acceptance of homosexuality. This would, immediately, seem to put him at odds with the leadership of the RCC, who have covered up perversion and pedophilia within their ranks for centuries; but, on the other hand, his election might just persuade the public that the Roman Catholic priesthood isn't really a nest of Sodomites. Converting to Catholicism might not be that much of a theological stretch for Phelps, who manages to balance dogmatic, extreme Calvinistic beliefs with his profession of being a Baptist. In any case, Phelps is perhaps the only public figure this side of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is just as intolerant as the Roman Catholic hierarchy has always been.
Pope Fred I?
Rick Warren. This is a no-brainer. Regarded as the most popular and influential Protestant cleric in America, everything Warren touches seems to turn to gold: his entire "Purpose-Driven" philosophy has made him even more popular than Billy Graham was in his heydey, although he lacks the Biblical convictions that Graham once had. The Bible, for Warren, is precisely what it has always been to the Roman Catholic Church: a tool which, if skillfully misinterpreted, can hoodwink the masses. His "ministry" has made him a millionaire many times over (although, in fairness, he practices a "reverse tithe," giving 90% of his income away, thus making him much less avaricious than any Pope in history). And, in a time of dwindling Catholic membership, Warren is a man who (in the language of sports promoters) knows how to "put butts in the seats." He'd be a natural, and the Papal vestments are even snazzier than the Hawaiian shirts he favors. Finally, and perhaps most important, he's already established himself among "the kings of the earth" (Revelation 18:2, 3).
Nancy Pelosi. Yes, she's a female, but we've already addressed that little quibble. She has a lust for power that was horribly frustrated when she lost the Speakership of the U.S. House of Representatives, and she needs a job worthy of her ego. Her social views, being politically correct in every respect, might rattle some of the more conservative Cardinals, but her zeal for abortion could wipe away the Catholic stigma on birth control that has kept so many people away from the Church (or has made so many Catholic couples disobey its teachings, thus becoming infidels). Times change, and the Church changes its doctrines so routinely that abandoning the no-contraception stance is only a matter of time. (If there's ever a Vatican III, you may expect such changes.) In addition, she is widely regarded as a sincere and almost aggressive Roman Catholic. If the Cardinals can overlook her sex, she may be a very attractive candidate. Well, not attractive, perhaps, but logical. And she's already demonstrated her fealty to Benedict:
Do I see a Protestant in the background?
Okay, there are three possibilities. There are many others, but it is hardly my responsibility to enumerate them. I simply think the Roman Catholic leadership should think outside the box, for once. As for Benedict himself, I cannot bid him Godspeed, but I sincerely hope his remaining days are not too uncomfortable. As he will shortly learn, there are things worse than physical pain. So long, chucklehead.
UPDATE: President Obama has named Nancy Pelosi, along with Joe Biden, as America's representatives to Jorge Mario Bergoglio's "coronation" on March 19. Rep. Pelosi will be green with envy.