Catholic World News News Feature

Toward the conclave #10: rating the papabile April 16, 0200

An attempt to predict the outcome of a papal election is, by its nature, a very risky business, and readers should be constantly reminded that a conclave will often produce unexpected results. With that caution emphasized clearly from the outset, CWR offers these thoughts on the leading candidates to succeed Pope John Paul II.

In the list that follows, we appraise the chances of the one clear favorite, a dozen possible contenders, and three "longshot" candidates for the pontificate.

Almost certainly, the next Pope will be one of the 115 cardinal-electors entering the conclave on April 18. Of these, 58 are from Europe, 20 from Latin America, 14 from North America, 11 from Africa, 10 from Asia, and 2 from Australia and the Pacific. The new Bishop of Rome is not likely to be a native of the Eternal City; none of the cardinal-electors was raised in Rome.

Other Stories in this Series
This is the 10th in a series of articles looking forward to the conclave that will choose the 265th Roman Pontiff. Readers might also be interested in:

Toward the conclave #1: the office of camerlengo
Toward the conclave #2: the cardinals' daily congregations
Toward the conclave #3: announcing the new Pope
Toward the conclave #4: how long will the conclave last?
Toward the conclave #5: a brief history of conclaves
Toward the conclave #6: the voting procedure
Toward the conclave #7: key personalities in the conclave
Toward the conclave #8: eligible candidates for the papacy
Toward the conclave #9: background of the cardinal-electors
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The Favorite

By virtually all accounts, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will be the main focus of attention as the conclave begins. He is not only the dean of the College of Cardinals, but also without a doubt the dominant personality among the electors.

As the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981, Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the closest allies of Pope John Paul II-- a colleague so highly valued that the late Pope re-appointed the German cardinal several times, overriding Ratzinger's desire to return to his native Bavaria. Yet although he was clearly the right-hand man of the late Pontiff, Cardinal Ratzinger has his own clear vision for the future of the Church, which he has expressed clearly in speeches and published works like the best-selling book-length interview known as The Ratzinger Report. He stands for a bold proclamation of Catholic doctrine and an energetic defense of Christian culture-- even, if necessary, as a minority in a secularized European society.

A theologian who participated in Vatican II (where he was associated with the liberal faction), Cardinal Ratzinger's intellectual prowess is unquestioned. After more than 2 decades in the Roman Curia, he knows the ways of the Vatican well, yet he also has pastoral experience as the former Archbishop of Munich.

Disadvantages: At 78 (today is his birthday), Cardinal Ratzinger may be perceived as too old for the rigors of the papacy. He has a history of heart problems which, while mild in themselves, are enough to heighten that concern.

More important, Cardinal Ratzinger has been a lightning-rod for controversy both within the Church (because of his disciplinary action against wayward theologians) and outside (because of his insistence that Christ is the sole means to salvation). His public image as the authoritarian Panzerkardinal, although it is completely at odds with his mild personality, would make him the target of vitriolic attacks by secular liberals.

Until recent weeks, those obvious drawbacks seemed to be enough to eliminate Cardinal Ratzinger from serious consideration as a candidate for the papacy. Yet as the cardinals gathered in Rome, their thoughts turned toward him. As they begin their deliberations, the cardinals will all face the same initial question: whether to vote for, or against, Cardinal Ratzinger. No other prelate commands nearly the same consideration. Even if he is not the 265th Pontiff, his support could be crucial to the conclave's eventual choice.

A Dozen Possibilities

  1. Cardinal Francis Arinze has spent the past 20 years in the Roman Curia-- first as president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, then (since 2002) as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Consecrated a bishop at the remarkably young age of 33, he was Archbishop of Onitska, Nigeria, for 17 years before his summons to the Vatican. He is widely traveled, articulate, and staunchly orthodox. His age, 72, might be seen as ideal. His background in a country where Christians must confront the challenge of militant Islam is an asset. He is certainly the leading African candidate, and perhaps the foremost of all the papabile from Third World nations. Disadvantages: Cardinal Arinze's penchant for plain speech can ruffle feathers, and some electors view him as unpredictable.
  2. Cardinal Angelo Scola is the Patriarch of Venice, the archdiocese that produced 3 Popes (Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul I) in the 20th century. A polyglot, a reliably orthodox theologian, and former rector of the Lateran University, he is associated with the Communion and Liberation movement. He has taken a particular interest in promoting the Gospel in Arabic countries-- an interest that could be useful as Christianity confronts the challenge of rising Islam. Attractive and energetic, he has moved to the fore quickly among the Italian cardinals since receiving his red hat in 2003. Disadvantages: A comparatively young man at 63, Cardinal Scola comes from a family with a history of longevity that might give pause to electors with concerns about the prospect of another long pontificate.
  3. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan is the candidate most highly touted by the Italian media. He has headed three large Italian sees: Ancona, Genoa, and now Milan, the largest archdiocese in Europe. He is regarded as a "moderate" candidate-- striking a balance between his predecessor in Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, a leader of "progressive" forces within the Church, and Cardinal Ratzinger. An expert in bioethics and sexual morality, he was heavily involved in the drafting of the papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae. He has also been outspoken in questioning the globalization of the world's economic system. Cardinal Tettamanzi draws support from across the spectrum of political and theological opinions. Disadvantages: Although he enjoys working with the media, Cardinal Tettamanzi is far from telegenic, and his lack of facility with languages-- he does not speak English-- would contrast sharply with the communications skills of Pope John Paul II.
  4. Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of the Rome diocese, and president of the Italian bishops' conference, is yet another Italian prelate who will receive serious consideration, particularly in light of his friendship with Cardinal Ratzinger. He has emerged in the past few years as a major factor in Italian political debates, particularly on the country's involvement in Iraq and the campaign for a new law on assisted reproduction. Disadvantages: His quadruple-bypass heart surgery in 2000 raised questions about his health. There are also concerns about his lack of personal charm and international experience.
  5. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires could be the foremost among the Latin American papabile, and is widely regarded as the one most likely to earn Cardinal Ratzinger's support. A Jesuit, he is respected as a philosopher and theologian, but especially as a pastor who has emphasized spiritual principles to his Argentine flock in the midst of their economic crises. Disadvantages: No Jesuit has ever become Roman Pontiff, and it seems unlikely that record would be broken at a time when the Society of Jesus is noted for dissent and declining vocations.
  6. Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Sao Paulo is another leading Latin American contender. The Franciscan head of the largest diocese in the world's most populous Catholic nation, he has a reputation for concern about poverty and Church social doctrine, and close ties with the charismatic renewal. Disadvantages: Some electors question the cardinal's friendly ties with Brazil's mercurial leftists President "Lula" da Silva. Chosen by Pope John Paul II to preach the Lenten Retreat at the Vatican in 2002, he failed to impress many observers.
  7. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna is a brilliant young Dominican prelate from an illustrious noble family with ties to the Hapsburg empire. Once a student of Cardinal Ratzinger, he was the principal editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; in Austria he is one of the more innovative promoters of the "new evangelization" of Europe. Disadvantages: The Church in Austria has been wracked by controversy and scandal. And a young (60) theologian from central Europe might be seen as too similar to Pope John Paul II.
  8. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a member of the Salesian order and Archbishop of Genoa, served as Cardinal Ratzinger's right-hand man for 7 years at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Respected and affable, he could emerge as a compromise candidate among the Italian prelates. Disadvantages: Cardinal Bertone's gregarious nature can detract from the gravitas expected in a Roman Pontiff; other prelates looked askance when he served as color-commentator for television broadcasts of soccer games, and shook hands with mourners outside the Vatican basilica during the obsequies for Pope John Paul II.
  9. Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels may be the leading candidate for the "progressive" wing of the College of Cardinals, now that Cardinal Martini (mentioned above) has retired. The successor to another noted liberal voice, Cardinal Leo Suenens, he has staked out his position as a proponent of democracy within the Church, and distanced himself from Vatican statements on controversial issues such as the use of condoms and the role of women. Disadvantages: Cardinal Danneels, too, has a history of heart trouble. More to the point, this conclave will not support a liberal candidate.
  10. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re is the ultimate Vatican "insider." He was the powerful sostituto who handled the day-to-day flow of Vatican paperwork from 1989 until 2001, when he became prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, supervising the appointments of bishops all around the world. No one questions his administrative abilities; indeed he is widely perceived as the natural choice to become Secretary of State in the next pontificate. Disadvantages: Cardinal Re has spent his priestly ministry almost exclusively in administrative roles; he has never been a diocesan bishop or even a pastor.
  11. Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec is another trained theologian, a Sulpician who studied with the late, renowned, Hans Urs von Balthasar. A specialist in ecumenical affairs-- he was secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity-- he also taught at the pontifical institute for study of marriage and the family before taking his present post in Canada, where he has been heavily involved in debates on same-sex marriage. Disadvantages: Another 60-year-old theology specialist, he has not had time-- since his appointment in 2002-- to reform a chaotic Canadian archdiocese.
  12. Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiagua of Tegulcigalpa is the first Honduran ever elevated to the College of Cardinals. A Salesian cleric with a distinct gift for working with the media, he is at ease with several languages, having taught in Rome, Austria, and the US as well as Central America. A former head of the Latin American bishops' conference CELAM, he is regarded as moderately liberal on both political and theological issues. Disadvantages: Perhaps a bit too young (62), he may have undermined his liberal standing with a highly publicized outburst in October 2002, in which he said that the sex-abuse scandal in the US was a case of media "persecution" of the Catholic Church.
  13. Three Longshots

    While unlikely to win the conclave's support, these three prelates pose intriguing possibilities for consideration:

  14. Cardinal Audrys Backis of Vilnius, Lithuania is approximately the right age, at 68; he has the right experience in both the Vatican diplomatic corps (with postings in the Philippines, Costa Rica, Turkey, and Nigeria) and the Roman Curia (the powerful Secretariat of State). Disadvantages: The conclave probably will not choose another prelate from the former Soviet empire.
  15. Cardinal Ivan Dias of Bombay is one of the few prelates who can rival Pope John Paul's linguistic ability; he is fluent in at least 17 languages. Another veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps and the Secretariat of State, he now heads a huge diocese in an often hostile environment. A friend and ally of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he has protested the anti-Christian attacks by Hindu zealots, yet observes that for the Church, "persecution is something natural," often presaging a great growth in the faith. Disadvantages: When speculation turns toward a Pontiff from the Third World, most prelates speak about Africa or Latin America, where Catholicism is growing-- not Asia, where the faith remains largely unknown.
  16. Cardinal Lubomyr Husar is the Major Archbishop of Kiev, the spiritual leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which is the largest Eastern Church in full communion with the Holy See. The selection of a Byzantine prelate would be a sensational move, sure to cause turmoil in Vatican relations with the Orthodox churches, with results that are difficult to predict. Trivia note: Cardinal Husar is the only US citizen on this list.