Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Crisis in the Conclave: The Picking of a Pope, 2013

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Canada's Marc Ouellet: Will this man be pope?

I was really into it the last time, back in the spring of 2005. Those were early blogging days for me. I'd started The Reaction on March 29 of that year, without all that much of a clue as to what I wanted to write about, and I was just finding my way around the blogosphere, and finding my voice. There were other things going on, of course, and my focus was generally on U.S. politics, but there was simply no denying the allure of the papal election.

I dove right in, reading everything I could, taking it all in, obsessing over the odds at Irish betting sites, learning about the various papabili, the leading contenders to the throne of the Bishop of Rome, names like Martini and Tettamanzi and Arinze and Hummes and Danneels, and, of course, Ratzinger, all while submerging myself in the inner workings of the Vatican and the politics of the conclave.

Yes, I was fascinated by the whole thing, even though I'm not a Catholic and actually find most of the "teachings" of the Church utterly repellent, not to mention most of Christianity complete bullshit, and I wrote a lot about the election that would produce Pope Benedict XVI. For example, picking four out of so many:

-- Cardinals in the home stretch...;
-- Smoke, mirrors, and bells: The Conclave begins;
-- The Conclave: Day Two; and
-- Habemus papam: How did Ratzinger win?

And now here we are again, sooner that we thought at the time but, then again, no one really expected Ratzinger to be pope for long, given his advanced age, even if resignation was largely unthinkable (and historically... well, you have to go back 600 years, to Pope Gregory XII in 1415, who was forced out, and so really back to Pope Celestine V in 1294, but he never really wanted to be pope anyway, and he was actually chosen in the last non-conclave papal election, so we're really in new territory now with Benedict. 

And, really, there's no crisis. In fact, I suspect that the new pope will be revealed tomorrow -- black smoke today, white smoke tomorrow -- and that he'll be one of the main contenders and more or less a consensus pick, maybe not as overwhelmingly so as Ratzinger, who was expected to be more John Paul II, a continuation of the same, but a popular choice and just a little bit... different.

I don't know nearly as much about this as I did last time -- the signs were pointing to Ratzinger but I went out on a limb with Dionigi Tettamanzi because I thought the cardinals would return to Italy after the long Polish diversion of JP2 (though my preferred pick, something of a reformer, was Godfried Danneels) -- but I'm going to go with the prediction I made at the outset: Canada's Marc Ouellet. He's currently ranked fifth at Paddy Power, but he appears to be a solid choice: conservative, and so in line with the Church's political and theological orthodoxy, new world (or sorts) but not too much so, both pastoral and administrative experience, seemingly well-liked and respected among the higher echelons of the Church, experience in Latin America.

I would say his two main rivals are Angelo Scola and Peter Turkson, both ahead of him at PP. If the cardinals want an Italian pope, Scola's the likely choice (with the lowest odds at PP). He's a thinker, and he's very much an establishmentarian. Something of a bridge between reformers and conservatives, he was also a contender last time, one of three possible successors reportedly mentioned by JP2. If they want to break new ground and go with a non-white and non-European pope, Turkson, from Ghana, would make for an inspired choice, though it must be noted that being non-white and non-European doesn't mean being non-conservative. He may be within the Church's current mainstream, but he's extremely conservative, and his comments on the ongoing sex abuse scandal plaguing the Church, specifically that homosexuality is the problem and that it's not much of a problem in Africa because "traditional systems... have protected its population against this tendency" have been outrageous, and perhaps too much for the cardinals.

Brazil's Odilo Scherer, #2 at PP, between Scola and Turkson, is the leading Latin American contender, but, while he's also very conservative, his generally favorable views on liberation theology (and hence on social justice) may be a bit too radical for a College of Cardinals that is overwhelmingly not radical in the least. But, again, if the cardinals look beyond Europe, they may prefer Latin America to Africa, and so Scherer to Turkson.

Tarcisio Bertone is PP's #4, just ahead of Ouellet, but he doesn't really have a shot. As Camerlengo, or chamberlain, he's running the Vatican during this period between popes, and he was previously in a top position as secretary of state. Meaning, he's deeply connected to the previous regime, not to mention at the center of the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal currently rocking the Church. He's also 78. I suspect the cardinals want to move in a different direction with a relatively exciting pick, away from the scandals, with a renewed focus on unity, and with someone a bit younger.

There are others, of course. National Catholic Reporter's Mike Allen, who was my go-to reporter back in '05, and still is, is reporting that there's a lot of buzz surrounding Boston's Sean O'Malley. I can't see the cardinals going American, but you never know. It would certainly be a game-changer, and he's certainly taken an admirably tough line on sex abuse. New York's Timothy Dolan is getting some buzz, too, and he's very charismatic, but, well... Milwaukee. Francis Arinze of Nigeria was a leading contender last time around. He was a close advisor to JPII and replaced Ratzinger in the key position of Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni, but he's now 80. If it's Africa, it's Turkson, not Arinze. Vienna's Christoph Schönborn is also a name that's been tossed around, but I can't see the cardinals going from Germany to Austria -- which may be a shame, because, while he's close to Benedict, he's somewhat less rigidly conservative than the rest of the papabile, open to dialogue and even reform, or at least to toleration.

But what do I know? What does anyone know? The ways of the conclave are a mystery (so see this helpful piece by John Allen, "A quick course in 'Conclave 101'"), dictated by many factors and politics that no one on the inside wants to talk about, and there doesn't appear to be a single dominant figure like Ratzinger to whom the cardinals will turn. Which brings me back to Ouellet. Why not? He's got it all -- unless you want Italian or "exotic." And, you know, even if I'm not a Catholic, and even if I find this to be all rather silly (and dangerous, given the power the pope wields), I must say I'd take a certain pride in having a Canadian elected pope, as silly as that may be as well.

Anyway, whatever your views/beliefs, a papal election is a big deal, and I'll be watching for the smoke with great interest and curiosity.

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