Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Crisis in the Conclave: First day of 2013 Popetacular reaches popeless conclusion

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Black smoke = the absence of God, or failure, or something

So here we are. A few hours into the papal election and still no pope. What are these guys waiting for? Isn't their "God" telling them what to do?

Actually, we're only one vote into the conclave. The 115 cardinals (all cardinals under the age of 80) entered the Sistine Chapel at 4:30 pm Vatican time and conducted a single vote that, not surprisingly, failed to produce the necessary two-thirds majority for any one candidate.

And so the smoke was black. (Check out this interesting piece on the mysteries of the smoke.)

There will now be four votes daily -- two in the morning and two in the afternoon, with ballots burned afterwards, black and finally white -- until there's a winner.

Apparently there's no campaigning in the Sistine Chapel itself, with the politicking taking place during dinner and other breaks. So what happened today is that the cardinals stated their initial preferences. It may be that the first vote today determined the obvious frontrunners, as it did last time when Ratzinger emerged as the likely pick, or it may just be that the cardinals are divided behind a number of choices. Either way, today's vote no doubt set the table for the quiet discussions and deliberations to come, and that the situation will be much clearer by the morning.

At New York magazine, Joe Coscarelli reports on the divides among the cardinals:

Three: Major factions within the conclave. According to the New York Times, "The cardinals have appeared divided over whether the next pope should be an outsider who would reform the Italian-dominated Curia, or Vatican bureaucracy; an internal choice who could bring change from within; or a galvanizing leader who can shore up the Catholic Church in the face of growing secularism and inroads by Protestant evangelicals."

Two: Favorites. CBS reports that "oddly, an Italian — Cardinal Angelo Scola — is the champion of the reformist camp supported by many non-Italian cardinals, those who seem to want to reform the way the Church runs itself. Conversely, a Brazilian — Odilo Scherer — is a traditionalist and supported by the largely-Italian faction which would prefer to leave the Curia to go about its business more or less as usual."

Much of the conventional wisdom (see John Allen's piece on how Vatican watchers know who the real contenders are) has included Scola and Scherer among the handful of favorites, and, as I wrote earlier today, there is much to recommend each of them. 

But I go back to my prediction: Marc Ouellet.

The one thing everything can seem to agree on is that there's no frontrunner this time (no Ratzinger), no obvious successor to Benedict. And there's no doubt that the Church (and the Vatican as a political organization) is currently in a state of crisis (that's not too strong a word), weakened by secularism in Europe and North America (and deservedly so), brought low by the widespread sex abuse scandal and more recently by Vatileaks and the arrogant insularity of the Vatican Curia, losing out to evangelical Protestantism in many places, and otherwise fragmenting into regional variations even as the Vatican seeks to retain authoritarian control.

I don't know what the means with the College of Cardinals, but it may be that the current situation is fragmenting the electors into a situation where there are too many first choices to produce a winner. Yes, Scola and Scherer might be two of them, but maybe the Africans are backing the hardline Peter Turkson, and maybe the Americans, and others concerned about the sex abuse scandal, are backing Sean O'Malley.

What this suggests to me, if true, is that the cardinals may ultimately look to a compromise candidate, a suitable #2 for everyone. That could be Scola, who bridges the conservative and reform elements in the Church, but it could also be Ouellet, who would appeal to those who want someone who's a bit of an outsider but still very much a conservative establishmentarian, a non-European but not an African or Latin American, change but not radical change.

Again, I don't know. I just know what I read and I trust some of those who know a lot about all this, like Allen.

And while I don't know anyone else who's predicting Ouellet, he just makes a lot of sense to me... not that I expect the sense I have to be the sense that prevails in the conclave, but there you go.

I also don't expect this to go on for much longer. The cardinals are nothing if not politicians, and while they no doubt want some drama, they surely also know that people -- the faithful, curious observers, the worldwide media -- expect a winner sooner rather than later, and that prolonging this process too long would be a bad sign (and bad PR). And if the divisions aren't too deep, and if they get their act together, I think we'll have a winner tomorrow afternoon -- let's say, after the first afternoon vote.

There's no crisis in the conclave. That's just a catchy title for my papal election posts. But if this goes into Thursday, well, that might be a sign of deeper divisions than anyone thought.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share


  • After the Pope election,the Sistine Chapel open to the visitors next Monnday March 18 th.

    By Anonymous Franc, at 1:10 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home