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The Next Pope: Facts to Ponder, Prelates to Watch | April 9, 2005

By Catholic World Report Staff

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Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of Catholic World Report. It has been revised and updated to reflect the current status of the College of Cardinals.


Of the 183 total cardinals 117 are eligible to vote in the papal conclave. That is all the cardinals under the age of eighty with the exceptions of Cardinal Jaime L. Sin of the Philippines and Cardinal Alfonso Antonio Suarez Rivera of Mexico, who are too ill to attend. The successful candidate must receive two-thirds of the votes.

These prelates come from 66 different countries. Although Europe is still disproportionately represented in the College of Cardinals, with 58 cardinal electors, the upcoming conclave will still be the most diverse in the history of the Church, from a geographical perspective. No single country–in fact, no single continent–will command the votes necessary to ensure a candidate’s election.

Forces in play

In 1978 the election of a Polish cardinal shocked observers, who had not anticipated an end to the unbroken 455-year succession of Italian Popes. But that election also shattered any assumption that the next Pope will be an Italian.

With 20 cardinal-electors, the Italian contingent will still be by far the largest single national group in the conclave. If they were to unite behind a single candidate–and perhaps bring along some of the many cardinals from other countries who are now stationed in Rome–they could form a powerful voting bloc. But to date Vatican-watchers have not detected any movement toward one of the several Italian papabili; the Italian cardinals are likely to divide their votes among several candidates.

The cardinals of Latin America, however, have shown a strong inclination to work together. The most influential prelates of the region (Cardinals Hummes of Sao Paolo, Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Errázuiz of Santiago, Cipriani of Lima, Rivera of Mexico City) maintain close and friendly ties. It is quite possible that they would rally support behind a single candidate. There are 21 cardinal-electors from Latin America, making that group a formidable voting bloc.

Moreover, there is a growing sentiment within the College of Cardinals in favor of a Pope from the Third World. There are few leading papabili from Asia and Africa, but several from Latin America. It is distinctly possible, then, that the next Pope will come from the world’s most populous Catholic region.

In an essay published in the January 2001 issue of Catholic World Report, James Hitchcock identified one influential group of prelates as "the accommodationists." In his analysis, for the cardinals in this category, "renewal" simply came to mean identifying the most pressing secular movements–Marxism, the sexual revolution, feminism, environmentalism, etc–and providing religious support for them, every independent religious belief condemned as an obstacle to human progress.

As Hitchcock pointed out, the "accommodationist" movement exerted enormous power within the post-conciliar Church, particularly in Western Europe. But by the dawn of the 21st century, these cardinals could no longer reasonably expect to elect one of their own to the pontificate. Their best hope in the coming conclave will be to prevent the election of a disciplinarian.

At the consistory of October 2003, however, Pope John Paul created several new cardinals whose pastoral style is diametrically opposed to that of the "accommodationists." Cardinals Pell of Sydney, Scola of Milan, Ouellet of Quebec, and Barbarin of Lyon are all young, energetic, and unabashedly orthodox. In the next conclave, they will supply fresh voices in support of traditional teachings.

The United States will send 11 cardinals into the conclave, forming the second-largest national delegation after the Italians. No American cardinal–in fact, no prelate from the English-speaking world–figures prominently on the usual lists of papabili. The American cardinals will command a great deal of attention before the beginning of the conclave, because their presence in Rome will draw the attention of the enormous American media contingent. Once the conclave begins, and the cardinals disappear from the media focus, the influence of the American delegation is likely to wane.

Prelates to watch

The following cardinals are likely to play important roles in the next conclave. Although not all of them are papabili, each one will have an influential voice in the selection of the next Pontiff.

Francis Arinze, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, figures prominently on most current lists of papabili. The 72-year-old Nigerian, whose academic training took place in Rome and London as well as his native land, was appointed a bishop when he was only 33, and became Archbishop of Onitska, Nigeria, in 1967. He remained in that post until 1984, when he was appointed by Pope John Paul II as president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, a post he occupied until receiving his current assignment in October 2002. In 20 years of service at the Vatican, he has acquired a reputation for personal charm, staunch orthodoxy, and plain speech. If the conclave leans toward a black African Pope, he will be the clear favorite.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was originally trained as a chemist before entering the Jesuit order. He was named an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, and became archbishop in 1997. The Argentine prelate, who will celebrate his 69th birthday in December, has replaced Carlo Maria Martini as the most prominent Jesuit on the list of papabili. He will also rank among the most influential members of the Latin American contingent at the conclave.

Dario Castrillón Hoyos, the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, is now 75 years old–a bit old to be considered among the top papabili, but still a possible choice for a conclave inclined toward a "caretaker" pontificate. A Colombian with a keen interest in new communications technologies (he is a regular Internet user), he became a bishop in 1971 and eventually was appointed Archbishop of Bucaramanga, Colombia, in 1992, serving there until he was called to his current assignment in the Roman Curia. As a former secretary-general (1983-1987) and president (1987-1991) of the influential Latin American bishops’ conference CELAM, he helped to guide the Church through the heated dispute over liberation theology. Since 2000 he has headed the Ecclesia Dei commission, charged with the supervision of efforts to preserve the traditional Latin Mass. He has also been charged by John Paul II with the negotiations–thus far unsuccessful–aimed at restoring Lefebvrite traditionalists to full communion with the Holy See.

Godfried Danneels, Archbishop of Brussels, is not too old to become Pope, at 71; but he may be too controversial. (A history of heart disease also weighs against his selection.) Long a favorite of "progressive" Catholics in Europe, he has become increasingly outspoken in his statements in favor of decentralizing the Church hierarchy, and promoting the role of women in Catholic leadership. A bishop since 1977, he replaced another liberal leader, Cardinal Leo Suenens, as Archbishop of Brussels in 1979.

Cláudio Hummes, OFM, Archbishop of Sao Paolo, is another leading member of the Latin American delegation. The Brazilian Franciscan, who is 70, was chosen by Pope John Paul II to preach the Lenten Retreat at the Vatican in 2002. Apart from studies in Italy and Switzerland, he has served his entire clerical career in Brazil, the nation with the world’s largest Catholic population. He stirred some protests there in 2002, when he showed his sympathies for the country’s new Marxist leader, President Luis Inacio da Silva. Considered an expert on ecumenical affairs, he has been a bishop since 1975.

Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, is the chief Vatican officer handling ecumenical affairs; he also heads a commission charged with promoting dialogue with Judaism. One of the most accomplished theologians in the College of Cardinals, he studied under the famed dissident Hans Küng at the University of Tubingen, then taught at the same university and at Catholic University in Washington, DC, before being appointed Bishop of Rottenburg, Germany, in 1987. Since joining the Roman Curia in 1999, he has been a consistent spokesman for liberal views, occasionally clashing openly with the other most distinguished cardinal-theologian, Joseph Ratzinger. He is 72 years old.








Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Archbishop of Paris, is the son of Polish Jews; his mother died at Auschwitz in 1943. Heavily influenced by French Catholics who opened their home to him, he was baptized at the age of 15, and soon entered the seminary in Orleans. In 1979 he was named bishop of that diocese, and in 1981 became Archbishop of Paris. A charismatic man with an intense personal spirituality, he has captured the imagination of many young French Catholics, and in Paris he has attracted many new vocations to the priesthood in spite of the rampant secularization of French culture. He was considered papabile for at least a decade, but his age (78) now weighs heavily against him.

Carlo Maria Martini, SJ, the retired Archbishop of Milan, also ranked high on the list of papabili for many years, as the favorite candidate of Catholic liberals and the most prominent Jesuit in the College of Cardinals. Pope John Paul himself helped to bring the Italian prelate to the fore, by inviting him to preach the Lenten Retreat in 1978 and then naming him Archbishop of Milan in 1979. Previously he had been known primarily as a Biblical scholar, heading first the Pontifical Biblical Institute and then the Gregorian University in Rome. In 2002, upon reaching his 75th birthday, he resigned his episcopal duties and moved to Jerusalem, announcing that he wished to spend his remaining days in prayer and study there.

Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is probably the best-known member of the College of Cardinals. A bulwark of orthodoxy during the current pontificate, he has remained at his post, heading the Vatican’s chief doctrinal agency, since 1981–at the express request of the Holy Father, and despite his own unconcealed desire to return home to his native Bavaria. An acclaimed theologian who participated as a peritus in the deliberations of Vatican II, he became Archbishop of Munich in 1977. A mild, friendly man–whose personality bears no resemblance to the liberal caricature of the Panzerkardinal–he has continued to produce his own serious theological works despite the demands of his office. His age (77) and medical history (a series of mild strokes) make him an unlikely candidate for the papacy, but he will be a powerful force in the conclave.

Giovanni Battista Re, the prefect of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, is the consummate Vatican "insider." A native of the Italian diocese of Brescia, he was ordained to the priesthood there, but worked only briefly in parish assignments before entering the Vatican diplomatic service. After postings in Panama and Iran, he arrived in Rome in 1971 as personal secretary to then-Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, the sostituto or Undersecretary of State. For 30 years he has moved steadily up through the ranks of the Curia–becoming secretary of the Congregation of Bishops (with the title of Archbishop) in 1987, then sostituto in 1989. He held that position, supervising the day-to-day administration of Vatican affairs, for 11 years, before assuming his current position, in which he handles the appointments of bishops throughout the world. At the age of 71, he would top the list of papabili, were it not for two factors. First, he has never had any experience leading a diocese–or even a parish. Second, there is a widespread perception that he is better suited–both by personality and by preference–to fill the #2 position as Vatican Secretary of State.

Norberto Rivera Carrera, the Archbishop of Mexico City, is another important Latin American prelate whose name appears regularly on the lists of papabili. The 62-year-old Mexican has shown an unusual appetite for public confrontation, clashing frequently with the Mexican government and forcing the resignation of a rector at the Marian shrine at Guadalupe, after that rector questioned the historical reality of the Virgin Mary’s apparition there. Although he has been a bishop since 1985, and is popular among his colleagues in Latin America, he is not well known outside the Western hemisphere.

Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB, the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, came to worldwide prominence as the president of CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ conference, from 1993 to 1999. Favored by liberal Catholics as a champion of "progressive" views on both theological and political issues, he damaged his standing with liberal pundits in October 2002, when he charged that media coverage of the sex-abuse scandal in the US was a form of "persecution" against the Catholic hierarchy. The 61-year-old Salesian, unlike Mexico’s Cardinal Rivera, is probably more popular among the prelates of Europe and North America than among his Latin American colleagues.

Camillo Ruini, the Pope’s Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, is also the president of the Italian bishops’ conference. That post gives considerable exposure, as he seeks to exert some Catholic influence over the country’s political debates. Moderately conservative on both theological and political issues, he diverged slightly from the Vatican’s diplomatic line this year when he sharply criticized Italian pacifists during the war in Iraq. As a popular 74-year-old Italian cardinal he should be considered papabile, although a history of heart disease might provoke some concerns.

Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, the Archbishop of Guadalajara, is the second Mexican cardinal on the list of papabili. He entered the seminary in Guadalajara in 1945, at the age of 12, and–apart from a brief assignment as Bishop of Juárez–has remained in the same archdiocese since that time. His most conspicuous achievement is the archdiocesan seminary, built to accommodate 1,000 students, which is now overcrowded. His principal problem, on the other hand, has been a long running battle with Mexican government officials, involving bitter charges and counter-charges over the unresolved 1993 murder of his predecessor as archbishop. Recently Mexican officials announced that they are investigating the cardinal on money-laundering charges; his supporters insist that the investigation is politically motivated.

Christoph Schönborn, OP, is the Archbishop of Vienna, and at 60 the youngest of the prominent papabili. Born in what is now the Czech Republic, to a family with deep roots in the Austro-Hungarian nobility, he entered the Dominican order, studied in Vienna and Paris, and became a consultant to the Swiss bishops’ conference. An accomplished theologian (who once studied under Cardinal Ratzinger) who is fluent in several different languages, he was appointed in 1998 to direct the commission that eventually produced the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In 1994 he was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Vienna, becoming the head of that troubled archdiocese one year later when Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër, OSB, resigned under pressure after being accused of sexual abuse. After initial clashes with the dissident group We Are Church and with some dissatisfied chancery staff aides, he has settled into the task of promoting the "new evangelization" in central Europe.

Angelo Scola, the Patriarch of Venice, immediately leapt toward the top of the list of papabili when he received his red hat from Pope John Paul at the October 2003 consistory. His predecessors in Venice include three 20th-century pontiffs: Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul I. The 63-year-old native of Milan is close to the Italian lay movement Communion and Liberation, which is particularly influential in Italy and Latin America. He became a specialist on family issues, teaching at the John Paul II Institute for Family Studies. Prior to his appointment in Venice, he was rector of the Pontifical Lateran University.

Angelo Sodano, the Secretary of State, is now 77 years old, and will probably soon step down from that post (although John Paul II may leave it to his successor to choose the next occupant of the Vatican’s second most powerful office). The son of a member of the Italian parliament, he has spent over 40 years in Vatican service. Although his age and his lack of pastoral experience make him a very unlikely candidate for the papacy, his 13 years as Secretary of State have given him extraordinary influence within the hierarchy, and he will be an important participant in the conclave.

Dionigi Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Milan, may rank as the leading Italian candidate for the papacy. At the age of 69, he has been the head of three important Italian archdioceses: Ancona, Genoa, and now Milan, the largest see in Europe. Affable and outspoken, he has been particularly vocal in his defense of Christian family life; he is reported to have helped John Paul II draft his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae. In 2001 he won some new respect among political liberals when he gave his blessing to the protestors who had gathered in Genoa to demonstrate against globalization at a meeting of the "G8" industrial powers. He has demonstrated a knack for dealing with the mass media–perhaps developed during his stint as chairman of the board of Avvenire, the daily newspaper published by the Italian bishops’ conference.

Related Links:

• IgnatiusInsight.com: "The Coming Conclave"
• Vatican website: "College of Cardinals"
• Vatican website: Biographies of current Cardinals



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