April 02, 2005

Papabile -- Possible Popes

UPDATE -- April 9, 2005: After reading this post, consider going to my new post on the conclave, Thoughts On The Papal Election of 2005. It looks at the upcoming conclave in light of events of the last week, and considers the chances of some of "possible popes" mentioned below, along with some additional candidates who have emerged since the death of John Paul II.

* * * *

In theory, the next Pope can be any baptized Catholic male. That leaves a lot of possible candidates out there. But the likelihood of us seeing the election of Ted Kennedy, Feddie from Southern Appeal, or one of my old seminary classmates is pretty remote. It has been centuries since someone NOT a member of the College of Cardinals was elevated to the Throne of St. Peter. That narrows the field significantly, to fewer than 200 "princes of the Church. When we exclude non-voting members of the College (over age 80) as likely too old to be elected, that leaves us with 117 (of the maximum 120 allowed by Church law) Cardinal Electors. In 2003, the Pope did create one Cardinal "in pectorre", meaning the name has been kept secret. It is believed that the secret Cardinal is one of the bishops of the Catholic Church loyal to the Vatican which has been oppressed in the People's Republic of China. The Vatican could quickly announce his name and have him participate in the conclave IF he can be safely gotten out of China and if he is under 80.

Different names are already circulating as papabile -- "possible popes" -- as we head towards a likely conclave in the month of April. I've written on this before (and got 300 hits on this earlier post just yesterday, since I am #3 on Google's search on the subject), but I think it is time to look at the topic again, as a conclave seems much closer than it did in February.

Generally speaking, church observers group the 117 cardinals eligible to elect the next pope into four overlapping constituencies:

There are those, likely a majority, who decidedly don't want the next papacy to last as long as John Paul's, who was elected Pope in 1978 at age 58.

They will favour an older man, maybe a caretaker pope, to nanny the church as it adapts to a new era without John Paul's fist on the tiller, but who will not stay in the job too long.

There are cardinals who will want a pope from the global South, where nearly 70 per cent of the world's Catholics now live.

Opposing them will be cardinals who think one of John Paul's great failures was his inability to address European secularism, and who, therefore, feel the next pope should be a Western European.

And there will be cardinals who, despite sharing John Paul's conservative theology — which virtually all of them do — have chafed under his centralized iron authority and will want the next pope to be more collegial, which is Catholic code language for allowing national churches and bishops to be more in charge of their own show.

What names are being tossed around as serious papabile? Well, here are a number I have encountered.

One thing to note is that each of them (except Schönborn & Rodríguez Maradiaga) is an older man, indicating that we are likely to see a "caretaker pope" who will likely give the Church a little breathing room after the third longest papacy in history, one defined by arguably the strongest papal personality in a century. Such popes are not generally expected to do much, but can be surprising. The last "caretaker" was Pope John XXIII, who was expected to do little more than correct Pius XII's failure to appoint Milan's Archbishop Montini to the College. Instead he issued the call for the Second Vatican Council, changing the Catholic Church forever.

Ultimately, we don't know who the next pope will be, or where he is from. That is up to the Holy Spirit, acting through the Cardinal Electors in the conclave.


Here is an Australian article that matches up well with much of my list, though with some differences.

This ABC News article is also sort of interesting.

The Houston Chronicle carried this article from Reuters giving a list with biographies. There are some significant additions and subtractions from my list.

In addition, I've got one Czech reader pushing his personal favorite, along with a list of other candidates.

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