One of the talking points in Rome in recent months has been the growing frailty of Pope Benedict. Inevitably, speculation has turned to his likely successor. Our Rome correspondent offers an insider’s guide to those considered papabile
In just a few months from now, Pope Benedict XVI will officially surpass Blessed John Paul II and become the oldest man in more than 100 years to serve as Bishop of Rome. The Polish Pope died just 16 days shy of his eighty-fifth birthday, a milestone Pope Benedict is set to reach on 16 April. Only four other popes since the end of the thirteenth century have made it to 86 years of age, of which the most recent was Pope Leo XIII, who died aged 93 in 1903.
Although Pope Benedict’s general health appears to be good, he has begun to show signs of fatigue and increasing frailty. History and prudence would suggest that the cardinals of the Church should seriously start thinking about suitable candidates to succeed him. Casting a vote for the Successor of Peter is the main and gravest purpose for which they are given a red hat. They must avoid being caught unprepared, as apparently they were at the last conclave, when a number of cardinals publicly confessed that they did not know their confrères very well.
The next Pope is likely to be the product of a compromise among the electors, evidently not the case at the last conclave. The voting rules had been significantly revised in 1996 by Pope John Paul II, allowing for a simple majority vote after a couple of weeks of stalemate. Previously, voting would continue until a candidate received two-thirds-plus-one votes. Apparently, Joseph Ratzinger had reached a simple majority early in the balloting and, according to one theory, a number of other cardinals agreed to add their support to his candidacy rather than risk a protracted conclave and highlighting the divisiveness that that would have signalled.
This is not likely to happen at the next conclave. Shortly after his election, Pope Benedict wisely changed the rules back to the traditional system. So his successor is most likely to have been someone with broad support rather than one coming mainly from a particular faction. According to number 1024 in the Code of Canon Law, any baptised male is eligible. But since 1378, the Pope has always been elected from within the College of Cardinals.
Even if Pope Benedict creates any number of new members before the next conclave, the college is likely to maintain certain characteristics. First, there will be a significant group of men with experience of working in the Roman Curia, meaning the man who is eventually elected Pope will have to have the backing of this bloc. Secondly, approximately half or more of the members will be Europeans and an even larger percentage will have studied in Rome or somewhere else on the Old Continent. Thus, the successful candidate, even if not European, is likely to have undergone a degree of European cross-pollination. And since this is an election for Bishop of Rome, any serious papabile must have a decent command of the Italian language.
The likely candidates
Cardinal Angelo Scola (born 7 November 1941), Archbishop of Milan, is the current front-runner according to many Italians. He is close to Pope Benedict and has an impressive curriculum vitae that includes serving as rector of the
Lateran University and bishop in two previous dioceses, including as Patriarch of Venice. He is also one of the first priests to be ordained, in 1970, exclusively for service in Comunione e Liberazione (CL), although his supporters have tried to argue that his membership in the movement ceased once he became a bishop. With access to CL funding, he has been a creator of ambitious university and cultural programmes, and a restorer of church buildings. One of his major accomplishments has been to establish the Oasis Foundation, which brings Muslim and Christian scholars together to brainstorm on the future of the Mediterranean world. But he is said to have opponents in the Roman Curia. And at age 70, the clock is ticking.
Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer (born 21 September 1949), Archbishop of São Paulo, is the strongest Latin American candidate but has appeal that stretches beyond geographical considerations. Not only has he headed the largest diocese in the world’s largest Catholic country since 2007, he also has sterling Roman credentials. German-Brazilian, he obtained a licentiate and doctorate in theology at the Gregorian University and later spent several years working at the Congregation for Bishops (1994-2001). In between, he worked in the Diocese of Toledo (Brazil) as a seminary rector and parish priest. Auxiliary bishop since 2001 and cardinal since 2007, the Roman Curia, Europeans and Latinos could find him a compromise candidate.
Cardinal Peter Turkson (born 11 October 1948), president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is the front-runner among the Africans. Born in Ghana of a Catholic father and a mother who converted from Methodism, he is one of the few Africans to have undertaken doctoral studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He completed his basic theology at a seminary run by the Conventual Franciscans in upstate New York and then taught in a seminary in his
Archbishop Vincent Nichols (born 8 November 1945) cuts a good figure with media savvy, a pastoral heart and common sense. The archbishop has demonstrated his willingness to embrace traditional elements of Catholicism, while being gently pragmatic about the need to make changes. Conservative commentators have highlighted his revised attitude to civil partnerships, English tardiness over the ordinariate and problems with the Cardinal Vaughan School, which will not have gone unnoticed in Rome.
A r c h b i s h o p Diarmuid Martin (born 8 April 1945), Archbishop of Dublin, is another Romanpedigreed English speaker who has marked himself from his peers, particularly
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