The Principal Papabili, New Bedford Standard Times, March 9, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Conclave Series for the New Bedford Standard Times
March 9, 2013

Yesterday we considered the principal job qualifications for someone to be considered papabile (pronounced, pa-PAH-bee-lay; plural papabili), the Italian term denoting those thought to be strong candidates to be elected pope in the conclave that will begin on Tuesday, March 12.

The fundamental criteria being discussed among cardinals and experts are that the man be distinguished as a devout disciple (follower) and ardent apostle (proclaimer) of Jesus Christ, capable of speaking the main languages of the Catholic world, physically vigorous, relatively young, administratively competent and reform-minded.

Among the 115 cardinals who will be selecting the next pope almost certainly from among their number — though technically they can elect any Catholic man capable of becoming bishop of Rome — there are about 15 serious candidates who meet all or most of these criteria.

The name being mentioned most is a French Canadian, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican Congregation for Bishops and used to be the Archbishop of Quebec. I was fortunate, during my studies in Rome, to have five courses with him, all with oral final exams, and so we got to know each other well. All of us who were in his classes revere him as a theologian, Christian and a human being and are very happy that the cardinals and the Catholic world are noticing in him what we were able to observe up close.

A few Italians are among the papabili. The first is Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan and former Patriarch of Venice, the two Italian dioceses from which most of the recent Popes have come. I had two courses with Cardinal Scola. He is a truly brilliant theologian and creative pastoral leader beloved and respected particularly by Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. The other leading Italian candidates are Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the leader of the Italian bishops conference, and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the impressive Biblical scholar who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Even though Italians are by far the most numerous nation of cardinal electors with 28, and even though Cardinals Scola, Bagnasco and Ravasi are very impressive prelates who would bring various skills to the apostolic palace, I would be surprised if any Italian is elected. Many of the non-Italian cardinals would hesitate to return the papacy to Italians, who prior to John Paul II’s election in 1978 had dominated the papacy for 478 years. They fear the way Italians who work in the Vatican Curia — many of whom believe Italy has a “right” to the papacy — would respond, frustrating the needed reform of the Curia.

The major European candidates are Cardinals Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and Peter Erdo of Budapest, both of whom are very well-known and respected throughout the Catholic world. Cardinal Schonborn was the principal author of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992 and Cardinal Erdo has been the head of the European Bishops Conference for several years.

This is the second conclave in which there are several Africans getting consideration to become the first African pope in 1500 years. The main candidates are Cardinals Peter Turkson of Ghana, who prepared for the priesthood in Albany; Francis Arinze, a frequent visitor to the US; Robert Sarah of Guinea, who heads up the Vatican’s charitable efforts; and John Onaiyekan of Nigeria, a popular speaker around the world. The Church is clearly ready for an African pope, but I’m not sure the world would be, since African prelates are among the world’s most outspoken.

Asia has one main candidate, Cardinal Luis Tagle, the mediagenic and simple Archbishop of Manila, but many believe, at 55, that he might be too young. Out of all the papabili, he would be the boldest choice.

There are some strong candidates from Latin America, especially the Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of São Paulo and the Argentinians Leonardo Sandri, who has spent much of his priesthood in the Vatican diplomatic corps and Curia, and Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. Since 42 percent of Catholics live in Latin America, time may be ripe for the first American Pope to come from that continent.

Then, of course, there is the buzz about Cardinals Sean O’Malley of Boston and Timothy Dolan of New York. We’ll consider them tomorrow.