Fr. Roger J. Landry
Conclave Series for the New Bedford Standard Times
March 8, 2013
The biggest question being asked in Rome these days, in dozens of languages, is who the next Pope will be.
It’s somewhat like what occurs in the States at the beginning of the NFL playoffs. Bookmaking sites, like the Irish-based Paddy’s Power, put up odds on those they deem leading candidates and take millions of dollars worth of bets. Everyone opines on who they believe will be the winner, from cab drivers, to waiters, to even some of the Cardinals themselves.
The truth is, however, no one really knows who the next Pope will be.
There’s a popular saying that whoever enters the conclave a pope leaves it still a cardinal. Strictly speaking, that aphorism hasn’t been validated by recent history: Cardinals Eugenio Pacelli in 1939, Giovanni Battista Montini in 1963 and Joseph Ratzinger in 2005 entered the conclave as clear favorites and emerged Pius XII, Paul VI and Benedict XVI respectively.
The difference this time is that no one is really entering the conclave a clear favorite to be the next pope.
After John Paul II died in 2005, many cardinals already had a clear sense that their first choice for his successor would be Cardinal Ratzinger. This time many of the cardinals are saying that they still have no idea for whom they will cast their first ballot.
So presently the Cardinals who are speaking publicly are saying they are each trying to narrow the field to a small list of possibilities. Then, with the help of prayer, research, and conversations with other cardinals and those who know the candidates well, they will form their preference as to who should be elected.
But while there is no consensus single favorite, there is a list of about 15 clear papabili, ˆthose considered capable of being elected.
Several candid cardinals have admitted that, unlike in 2005 where pundits had identified various cardinals as papabili who never garnered much attention among the cardinals themselves, this time the ones being mentioned by the journalists generally correspond to those whom the cardinals are considering most.
What are the basic criteria the Cardinals and intelligent observers are using to determine who are these main papabili?
The first is who the man is and whether he lives and proclaims the faith in a compellingly attractive way. Catholics believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ and so whoever is elected needs to be someone who by his personal holiness, virtues, amiability, joy, education and preaching is in some way capable of inspiring others to think about Jesus.
Second, to minister effectively across the world, he must be a polyglot. Someone who is not fluent in Italian, Spanish, English and French would be highly unlikely.
Third, especially after John Paul II’s illness and Benedict XVI’s retirement, cardinals are looking for someone physically vigorous to handle the demanding travel schedule and daily life of the papacy. Someone older than 72 or who has had serious health issues would be a real long shot.
Fourth, he must have proven pastoral and administrative competence, capable of overseeing and reforming the dysfunctional aspects of the Vatican Curia. This would likely rule out those who have never led their own dioceses but only served in the Curia or Vatican diplomatic corps. Among the essential administrative qualifications would be someone exemplary in responding to the horrible legacy of the sexual abuse of minors within the Church.
Geographical criteria — like electing an African or the first North or Latin American — would be a bonus, but they’re not really among the principal considerations.
Tomorrow we’ll discuss some of those whom cardinals and pundits both think meet these qualifications.