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The Men Who Might Be Pope

7 minute read
Robert Sullivan

With John Paul’s death the Sacred College of Cardinals faces the critical responsibility of electing a successor, a duty it has not executed in more than 26 years. Such procedures are fraught with suspense and barnacled with gossip and speculation. Secular and nonsecular observers fall over themselves trying to gauge the political and philosophical mind of the electorate before the Cardinals gather behind tightly closed doors to discuss, debate and ultimately decide who will be the successor of Peter.

The pre-vote guesswork is like nothing so much as handicapping a horse race, and the field is deep but without a clear favorite. Although John Paul personally selected all but three of the 117 voting Cardinals, don’t expect a clone of the departed Pontiff. The outcome is often an expression of a pent-up desire to adjust the church’s compass, however subtly. That said, the Italian members of the Sacred College had established, before the ascension of the Polish Karol Cardinal Wojtyla in 1978, a 456-year tradition of selecting from among themselves. Though the percentage of electors from Italy has plummeted from the 33% who helped elect John XXIII in 1958 to 17% today, the 20 Italians who can cast ballots remain powerful, and the next Bishop of Rome could be Italian.

For years CARLO MARIA CARDINAL MARTINI, 78, a Scripture scholar who was Archbishop of Milan, was considered a possible progressive successor to John Paul. But he stepped down from the archdiocese in 2002, spends half his year studying in Jerusalem and is effectively out of the running.

As the Cardinals file toward the chapel, Martini will be seen as the progressive kingmaker facing down a troika of powerful conservative Rome-based Cardinals: John Paul’s doctrinal policy chief, JOSEPH CARDINAL RATZINGER of Germany; the head of Italy’s Bishops’ Conference, CAMILLO CARDINAL RUINI; and Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Cardinal Sodano. The thinking is that their favored candidate would be DIONIGI CARDINAL TETTAMANZI, 71, the former Archbishop of Genoa, who has succeeded Martini in Milan. His philosophical approach is sufficiently unclear that neither the progressive Cardinals nor the doctrinaire are likely to oppose him. In Genoa he spoke out in favor of antiglobalization protesters, and in Milan he has called for compassion toward immigrants, drawing the wrath of rightist politicians.

Meanwhile he has remained in league with the conservative lay organization Opus Dei, which is rumored to have been working for some time as a preconclave lobby to make certain that the next Pope is a staunch traditionalist. Tettamanzi would play very well: he has a kind, grandfatherly mien still associated at the Vatican with the much beloved Pope John XXIII. Yet there is said to be friction between the Archbishop of Milan and his predecessor, Martini. The man who might have been Pope could work to derail Tettamanzi’s candidacy. There are enough intrigues in Rome just now to fill a Dan Brown novel.

If Tettamanzi is not the Italian choice, ANGELO CARDINAL SCOLA, 63, could be. The Patriarch of Venice is a conservative who formerly headed the Vatican’s Institute on Marriage and Family, where he was an incisive voice for John Paul’s firm views on sexual morality. He is also seen as a smart, worldly pastor. He has one subtle strike against him: he is, for a potential Pope, young–and this is probably not a good time to be so. Father Richard McBrien, former chairman of the department of theology at the University of Notre Dame, told TIME, when John Paul II began to appear frail, “The next Pope will be an Italian Cardinal in his 70s. The Cardinals don’t want another long-term Pope.” If McBrien is right, the dark-horse candidacy of Genoa’s TARCISIO CARDINAL BERTONE, 70, a well-liked pastor with a quirky charisma who used to serve as Ratzinger’s deputy in the Vatican’s doctrinal office, has improved. For that matter, the Cardinals, in reaction to John Paul’s long tenure, could simply decide not to decide and name either Ratzinger, who is 77, or Ruini, 74, as Pope. There is scuttlebutt in Rome of this happening: the ascension of what is, in effect, an interim Pontiff who would for a few years carry out John Paul II’s mandate while the church takes a deep breath and decides where it really wants to head next.

Beyond Ratzinger, other non-Italian candidates are thick on the ground. The church is booming in the Third World, and some 40% of the Cardinals who will elect the next Pope are from developing nations. Because of this, there are several Latin American Cardinals whose candidacies range from reasonable to viable. JORGE MARIO CARDINAL BERGOGLIO, 68, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, is an extremely humble Jesuit who will do nothing to campaign for the papacy but who might emerge as a correct, holy choice. CLAUDIO CARDINAL HUMMES, 70, Archbishop of the 6 million-strong Sao Paulo, Brazil, diocese, is an equally soft-spoken Franciscan conservative who has long fought for the poor. By contrast with the borderline-shy South Americans, OSCAR ANDRES CARDINAL RODRIGUEZ MARADIAGA, 62, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is passionate and telegenic. He could ably succeed John Paul as a high-profile Pope. Already he has campaigned for Third World debt relief alongside U2’s Bono. Among Rodríguez Maradiaga’s many talents: he can explain his moderate philosophies in eight languages, play the piano and fly a plane.

Further north, an equally outspoken candidate is Mexico City’s Archbishop NORBERTO CARDINAL RIVERA CARRERA, 62. He epitomizes the feverish Catholicism of his 19 million mostly poor acolytes, boosting native rites and symbols. But Rivera Carrera is no liberal; he has close ties to the Legionaries of Christ, a flourishing right-wing society of priests. He is sometimes a too-fierce defender of the faith: when the U.S. pedophile crisis broke, he saw it as a “campaign of media persecution against the entire Catholic church.” Another archconservative is DARIO CARDINAL CASTRILLON HOYOS, 75, whose star is said to be fading but who nevertheless has a compelling personal history. Quite like John Paul, this man from Medellín, Colombia, has displayed courage, tenacity and a willingness–even an eagerness–to mix church and state. He has gone deep into Colombian jungles to mediate between leftist guerrillas and right-wing death squads, and once showed up at the house of cocaine king Pablo Escobar disguised as a milkman. Revealing himself, Castrillón Hoyos implored Escobar to confess his sins, which, presumably at some considerable length, the vicious gangster did.

There are also a couple of non-Italian Europeans who will be given consideration. GODFRIED CARDINAL DANEELS, 71, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium, is an intellectual and a moderate, bordering on being a progressive. He has called for compassion for those who divorce and remarry and has urged a greater role for the laity, including women. CHRISTOPH CARDINAL SCHONBORN, Archbishop of Vienna, is regarded in Rome as a brilliant conservative theologian and a smooth parish leader. He was well placed in life to become both: he studied theology under Cardinal Ratzinger, who will surely argue Schönborn’s case before the conclave, and is the third Cardinal in his family’s lineage. As might happen with the Italian Scola, Schönborn’s relative youth–he is 60–could work against him.

Asia’s best chance is with Bombay Archbishop IVAN CARDINAL DIAS, 68. His brother Cardinals appreciate his mix of diplomatic skills (he speaks a dozen languages) and doctrinal clarity in the rocky terrain of multifaith India.

The list extends from here, and as Wojtyla’s extraordinary election more than a quarter-century ago proved, there is absolutely no predicting what will occur when the Cardinals gather in the Sistine Chapel beneath the Michelangelo frescoes and devoutly swear to “preserve a scrupulous secrecy regarding everything that relates in any way to the election of the Roman Pontiff.” Having pledged, they will get down to their task, filling in their ballots under the words “I elect as Supreme Pontiff.” Outside, St. Peter’s Square will be filled with pilgrims, gazing up at the chimney, awaiting the puff of white smoke that announces Habemus Papam!: “We have a Pope!” –Reported by Jeff Israely/Rome

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