Who Will Be the Next Pope?
Behind the scenes, Vatican watchers are already speculating on possible successors to Pope Benedict XVI. This time the short-list includes several Africans and Hispanics. Here’s our guide to the
Predicting who will be the next pope is a presumptive and precarious endeavor.
After all, the Roman Catholic Church is not just some political institution or a corporation with a white-robed CEO at the helm. To 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, it’s a divine body that operates with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
But papal elections offer rare insight into how the church is growing and evolving, as well as how much it differs from any other earthly institution. Handicapping the players next in line to lead the Vatican involves weighing geopolitical concerns as much as it does the general “holiness” of the candidates.
Although no such election is imminent, many people believed that Pope Benedict XVI’s age when he succeeded Pope John Paul II four years ago might make his term in Peter’s
Chair a short one.
So what would the cardinals look for if it were necessary to gather for a conclave? (Papal elections are called conclaves, which means “locked in with a key,” because the cardinals who vote are sequestered behind locked doors during their deliberations and voting.)
Certainly, they look for holiness. The Pope, above all, must be someone of prayer. He must be pastoral, with deep compassion for the poor and vulnerable. Candidates also are judged on intelligence and grasp of current issues. A flair for languages, particularly Italian and English, is useful but not crucial.
One of the factors most likely to occupy the minds of the cardinal-electors are the challenges facing the Church and its increasingly global character, according to papal biographer John Allen. Two-thirds of the world’s Catholics live in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Many observers had predicted that an African cardinal would be elected at the last conclave, with Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze cited as having the best chance of becoming a black Pope. In the end, neither he nor any other African or Asian came close to election.
Cardinal Arinze is no longer considered a contender for the papacy. But there are several African and Latin American candidates on the short-list. Still, the possibility of an American Pope remains remote.
For a Church in global transition, there could be as many good reasons for sticking with the traditional Italian or European pontiff as there are for picking from abroad; its decline in Europe presents one of Catholicism’s greatest challenges.
With these factors in mind, Newsmax drew up a list of 12 front-runners. But whoever is chosen, the Church believes that human beings — and certainly not mere journalists — ultimately do not elect the successor of Peter, but rather a far higher authority is responsible for the choice. “In a conclave, the choice of the Pope is made by the Holy Spirit,” says veteran Vatican commentator Vittorio Messori.
Perhaps that’s what makes this unique, secretive, and sacred election so mysterious and tricky to predict.
The 12 Leading Papal Candidates
Cardinal Marc Ouellet
Archbishop of Quebec, Canada
Noted for his cheerful, open, and humble persona, as well as his uncompromising orthodoxy, Cardinal Ouellet often is regarded as the cardinal to watch for the future. Last year, Pope Benedict chose him to chair a synod of bishops on the Bible — often a sign of a favored successor. The 64-year-old reportedly excelled in the role, called “relator,” while managing a major international congress for the Church in Quebec that same year. Surrounded by liberal bishops and radical secularism, he has remained one of the staunchest defenders of the Catholic faith in the Canadian hierarchy. An author of many books, he is a proficient linguist.
Cardinal Angelo Scola
Patriarch of Venice, Italy
Once considered a long shot to succeed John Paul II, Cardinal Scola has emerged as a front-runner to follow Benedict XVI because of his pastoral energy and theological expertise. An eminent scholar, he has striven to find ways to avoid a “clash of civilizations” through building a forum for dialogue and encounter between the West and Islam. The 67-year-old son of a truck driver is ebullient and multilingual. Sometimes his intellectual depth can confound even the most erudite of theologians. If elected, he would follow three Venice patriarchs who went on to become Pope in the 20th century: Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul I.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Archbishop of Buenos Aries, Argentina
If elected, this runner-up in the last conclave would be the first Jesuit to reach the highest seat in the Catholic Church. A very pastoral, humble, and simple priest who is happy using public transportation and shuns interviews, he probably would opt for a quiet life as Peter’s successor. Not a fan of bureaucracies, he’s said he’d be reluctant to live at the Vatican. But if his record in Argentina is an indicator, he would be a redoubtable defender of Catholic identity and orthodoxy. Now 72, he studied chemistry before entering the priesthood and is said to speak Spanish, Italian, and German.
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn
Archbishop of Vienna, Austria
A member of a prominent aristocratic Austrian family that produced two cardinals in the 18th and 19th centuries, Cardinal Schoenborn has long been a rising star in the Catholic Church. He was considered a serious candidate for Pope during the 2005 conclave but was thought too young. Now 64, the former student of Benedict XVI still is relatively young but that may run in his favor this time. Above all, he has had extensive experience of defending the Church in the face of radical secularism in Austria. Multilingual, he recently called for a reform of the Vatican’s internal communications.
Cardinal Ivan Dias
Prefect, Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
Experience as an archbishop, a Vatican diplomat, and long service as an official in the Roman Curia make this Indian prelate arguably the ideal papal candidate from the developing world. But his low profile (he almost never gives interviews) means he is little known, even in his native India. The 73-year-old has served at Vatican embassies in Scandinavia, Indonesia, and Madagascar, and is said to speak a dozen languages. He is responsible for maintaining the Church’s missionary activity around the world, and it is so important that he is known as the “Red Pope.”
Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier
Archbishop of Durban, South Africa
Cardinal Napier, a Franciscan, has been tipped as a potential black African Pope for some time. Charismatic, humble and pastorally effective, he is a keen advocate of social justice, is doctrinally sound and is a vigorous opponent of abortion. He grew up on a South African farm with seven siblings during the apartheid era. He even opposed a papal visit to the country in 1988 saying it would give legitimacy to the white-dominated government. He has also been a firm backer of the Church’s teaching against condom use in preventing AIDS.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco
Archbishop of Genoa, Italy
A firm and loyal friend of Benedict XVI, Cardinal Bagnasco, 66, has emerged as a doughty yet softly spoken and deeply pastoral leader of the Church in Italy. His meteoric rise is testament to his abilities. Appointed archbishop of Genoa in August 2006, Benedict XVI chose him to head the Italian bishops’ conference a year later and made him a cardinal. His strength of character was shown in his same-sex union condemnation in 2007, a battle the Italian Church eventually won but led to death threats against him and brought about the presence of armed guards. He often has defended the Pope vigorously in the face of controversy.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga
Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras
If the cardinals were to choose someone with a more liberal-leaning outlook, the 66-year-old Cardinal Maradiaga would be their man. He has long been one of Latin America’s leading voices in the College of Cardinals, especially on social-justice issues. He once called poverty and social injustice the real “weapons of mass destruction” and said globalization is creating a world in which “the greediness of a few is leaving the majority on the margin of history.” He is most popular in Latin America, home to 40 percent of the world’s Catholics. He is also good with the media, speaks eight languages, and plays the saxophone.
Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney, Australia
A no-nonsense Australian who takes an uncompromisingly conservative position on social issues, Cardinal Pell, 67, would delight conservative and traditionalist members in the Church if he were elected. Since being elevated to cardinal in 2003, he has taken a high profile on a wide range of issues, while adhering strictly to Catholic orthodoxy and supporting traditional liturgy. He rose to prominence at the World Youth Day the Pope attended in Sydney last year. A climate change skeptic, he once criticized “hysteric and extreme claims” about global warming as a “symptom of pagan emptiness.” Warm hearted and with a wry sense of humor, Pell stands more than 6 feet tall and is a keen sports fan and a former rugby player.
Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins
Prefect Emeritus, Congregation for the Causes of Saints
Had there been a stalemate between Cardinal Ratzinger and his nearest rival, Cardinal Bergoglio, during the last conclave, the compromise candidate would have been Cardinal Saraiva. His warmth and holiness have brought him much respect among officials at the Vatican, where the Portuguese cardinal worked until recently. A keen soccer fan, the 77-year-old headed the Vatican’s education department for many years before being appointed to oversee saints causes. But his age and his inability to speak English could work against him.
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson
Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana
When he was elevated to the cardinalate by John Paul II in 2003, Cardinal Peter Turkson became one the youngest princes of the church. At just 60 years old, he has already made his mark as a champion of Christian unity, interreligious dialogue and the Church in Africa. A proficient linguist (he speaks six languages), his abilities have already been noted by the Pope: In February, Benedict XVI appointed him to be the recording secretary for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Africa in October. A U.K. Catholic magazine described him in 2005 as “one of Africa’s most energetic Church leaders.”
Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera
Archbishop of Mexico City
Cardinal Rivera heads the world’s largest Catholic archdiocese, with a population of 7 million. He has criticized Mexico’s drug cartels sharply and most recently backed calls for tougher laws after an increase in drug-related violence. He also has spoken out against government corruption and complicity in the drug trade, and he has called on the United States to join forces against the problem. A few years ago, he criticized the U.S. for “xenophobic attitudes” toward Mexican immigrants. Cardinal Rivera, 66, is conservative doctrinally and, like Cardinal Pell, could be counted on to defend the Church vigorously in the face of radical secularism.
The Long-Shot Contenders
Top picks for pontiff usually come from the ranks of the cardinals who are closest to the line of succession at the Vatican. But there’s an old Roman saying about papal conclaves: “The next Pope is not yet a cardinal.”
Among those who could see their stock rise between now and the next papal election are:
• Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, an Italian biblical scholar who heads of the Vatican’s council for culture.
• Monsignor Pietro Parolin, another Italian considered in Rome’s diplomatic circles to be a first-class diplomat. He has made concrete advances in bettering the Church’s relations with Vietnam and China.
• Archbishop Raymond Burke, the lone American on the list, the former archbishop of St. Louis who recently was appointed head of the Church’s “Supreme Court” and is expected widely to be made a cardinal soon. — E.P.
As originally published in Newsmax magazine.