5 April 2005

The man who would be Pope I

The blogosphere seems to be sprouting amateur Vaticanistas in all directions. The first thing o remember about a conclave is that they are almost completely unpredictable. The only predicted election last century when Cardinal Montini of Milan (reigned as Paul VI was elected. Even that was wrong, because the smart money had said he'd get it at the previous conclave. I think any prediction that includes a curialist like Ratzinger or Sodano is wrong. Here's why:

Twenty-eight of the cardinals under 80 come from the Roman Curia, representing roughly 24 percent of the total. This means that 76 of the electors are from outside Rome, and many of them believe the election of a pope is an important opportunity to introduce another, non-Roman perspective into the governance of the church. This reality makes the prospect of electing a pope directly from the Curia fairly remote.

One other statistic, both revealing and potentially misleading, is that Pope John Paul II has named all but three of the 117 men who will elect his successor (the three under-eighty cardinals named  by Paul VI are Baum, Ratzinger, and Cardinal Jaime Sin of the Philippines). That fact testifies to the length of John Paul’s reign, almost 27 years, and his impact on shaping the leadership of the church.

Yet it does not mean that John Paul has “stacked the deck” and pre-determined that his successor will be a man very much like him. Historically speaking,  Colleges of Cardinals appointed by one pope do not simply duplicate that man in the election of his successor. Instead, they are trying in part to remedy what they perceive to the weaknesses and limitations of the former regime, as well as build on its strengths. That sort of electoral psychology is always a prescription for change.

Historians call this the “pendulum dynamic,” that papal approaches tend to oscillate from one perspective to the other rather than staying put. The Italians, as they always do, have a better phrase for it. They say, “You always follow a fat pope with a thin one.”

This conclave, in other words, will certainly bring surprise. The question is, a surprise of what kind?

I think part of the surprise is that the cardinals are unlikely to elect someone young enough to threaten another long reign and I agree with Allen they are unlikely to elect a curialist. John Paul II was the world's first Stalinist pope. Stalinism was what he grew up with and his addiction to tight central controls and bureaucratic interference was inherently Stalinist. S was his tendency to ignore managerial problems, like the shortage of priests, in favour of evangelising and proclaiming the church's unchangeable mission.

The Independent's list reads:

Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi (Italy)
The favourite. As Milan's archbishop, he runs the largest archdiocese in the world, and is a traditionalist on doctrine. His promotion by the Pope three years ago was "tantamount to an investiture" as the likely successor, according to La Repubblica.

Cardinal Francis Arinze (Nigeria)
Head of the influential Congregation for Divine Worship, he would be the first modern black pope and would be able to improve the Church's often-delicate relations with Islam. He helped to arrange the Pope's first visit to a mosque.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Mardiaga (Honduras)
Frequently mentioned due to his mix of connections in the Vatican and support for the underprivileged. He is a media-friendly member of the Salesian Order, who argues it is time the Third World was represented on St Peter's Throne.

Cardinal Angela Scola (Italy)
The 63-year-old Patriarch of Venice is close to the Communion and Liberation movement. He is seen as a rising star within the Church. His nomination to be the "relator" at an Italian bishops' conference was seen as a sign of his having papal favour.

National Catholic Reporter gives a list of 20. If you were going to build a serious form guide I'd look for someone on the Reporter's list who is not a curialist and not so young as o threaten a repeat of John Paul II's lengthy pontificate.

I'd exclude Arinze as curialist with the same problems as Ratzinger. I'd also exclude Scola, who is linked closely to Communione e liberazione, a Catholic lay movement whose most famous member is Rocco Buttiglione, the European commissioner-designate rejected by the European parliament last year. Opus Dei and Communione e Liberazione are both closely related to curial intervention in local dioceses and being linked to them is not, I suggest, going to be a good thing for anyone fishing for election to the fisher's ring.

I'll look at the more unconventional, and therefore more likely, papabili in part II.

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