>> Papabili post Pope Francis — Sep. 3, 2013.
By Filip Mazurczak
Filip Mazurczak is a regular contributor to Katolicki Miesięcznik “LIST”. His writing has also appeared in First Things, The European Conservative, and Tygodnik Powszechny. He has dual U.S. & Polish nationality.
I had long considered speculation on who the next pope would be while a pope is still alive to be in poor taste. However, times have changed. Specifically, last year Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world (including myself) by announcing that he would retire because of advanced age and poor health. In reality, this shouldn’t have been so surprising, as both Paul VI and John Paul II thought about doing so at some point, while in a 2010 conversation with his countryman Peter Seewald Benedict said that we would feel doing so would be necessary is his health would fail. Amazingly, I had read this book-length interview four years ago and did not pay much attention to this claim; in fact, I do not even remember reading it.
Has Benedict XVI set a precedent, or is remaining pope while ill until death like John Paul II did going to be the norm? Of course, time will tell what the future trend will be. However, I think it is fairly likely that Pope Francis will follow in his immediate predecessor’s footsteps. In a meeting with journalists on a plane from South Korea, where he had made a pilgrimage to, to Rome Francis said that he doesn’t expect his pontificate to last more than two or three years, and that the world will have to get used to the notion of pope emeriti. This comment had echoed previous things that Francis had said; for example, he told Spanish television in an interview earlier this year that he will do exactly what Benedict did.
Having said all this, I do not think it is tasteless to speculate on who will succeed Francis. I have prepared my list of papabili if Francis were to abdicate and a conclave were to be held in two or three years at the most. By then, only a small minority of cardinals will have been picked by Francis, and the next conclave’s makeup will be largely similar to that of the 2013 one.
What kind of pope will the cardinals want? First, in terms of outlook, it is quite clear that Francis has alienated traditionally minded prelates. His removal of conservative churchmen and replacement with more progressive ones, opening up the discussion on communion for divorced and remarried Catholics after making a few casual comments and words on homosexuals (that were consistent with Church teaching, but many conservative Catholics believe that they were easy to be manipulated) come to mind. Because most of these cardinals are conservative (for example, more have publicly opposed Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to allow the divorced and remarried to receive communion), it is likely that there will be a backlash against progressive-minded cardinals. Also, Francis speaks much about poverty, but has said very little about secularism, the biggest concern for the majority of the cardinals, and I do not think that the cardinals will again want someone who speaks about poor countries’ debt weekly, yet gives abortion or homosexuality but a passing reference here and there. For these reasons I find it highly unlikely that cardinals with papabile credentials – such as Christoph Schönborn (69 years old, Austria), Luis Tagle (57 years old, Philippines), Oscar Maradiaga (71 years old, Honduras) or Donald Wuerl (73 years old, United States) have much of a chance. At the same time, I think that excessively conservative cardinals – such as Raymond Leo Burke (66 years old, United States/Vatican), Antonio Canizares Llovera (68 years old, Spain) or Carlo Caffarra (76 years old, Italy) – do not have much of a chance, because the progressive faction will likely be too large for them to receive the two-thirds plus one votes necessary. However, I believe that the latter group will be ascendant, and will be the kingmakers. As far as someone with a realistic chance of being elected goes, the most likely future pope is one who is moderate with a conservative streak.
Another key factor determining the next conclave will be the main area of concern. There is always a main “issue” that drives each conclave. In 1939 (Pius XII was elected), that was a looming European war; in October 1978 (John Paul II was elected), it was polarization between the “traditionalist” and “progressive” cardinals following the Second Vatican Council; in 2005 (Benedict XVI was elected), it was the secularization of Western societies; in 2013 (Francis was elected), it was reform of the Roman curia. In the next conclave, in my opinion, the main areas of concern will be the polarization between “conservative” and “progressive” cardinals following Francis’ pontificate, and concern about the persecution of Christians in places like Iraq as well as growing political and military conflicts worldwide.
Finally, there is geography. During last year’s conclave, the predominant feeling was that the Church in Asia and Africa, while dynamic, is still very young and unsettled, and thus it is too soon for a pope from one of these regions. Therefore, if a non-European were elected, it would be someone from the Americas. Because most of these same cardinals with these same sentiments will be present at the next conclave, and because the Church in Asia and Africa will not change radically and take root in just a couple years, the same feelings will likely be present at the next conclave. However, I could be wrong, and for this reason I have added one African cardinal that in my opinion is best qualified to be pope (I personally think that, in the future, a pope from Africa is more likely than one from Asia, as the former region has a growing number of Christian-majority societies and Christendom is taking root there, whereas the Asian Church, while dynamic, is numerically tiny). While it is true that Francis has expanded the geographic diversity of the College of Cardinals at his first consistory somewhat, still six out of his 16 new cardinal-electors are Europeans, including four Italians (equal to the number of new Africans and Asians combined), while seven are from the “global North”. Therefore, prelates from wealthy countries will still be sizeable. Furthermore, Latin American is, like Europe and North America, experiencing secularism and consumerism, so, I predict, Latin American and “global North” cardinals will increasingly share the same pastoral concerns. Thus I predict that the next pope will be a European, North American, Australian or Latin American. With the last group, it seems that the cardinals may be unwilling to elect someone from the same region twice in a row, but if someone’s qualifications are higher than his nationality, this probably will not mean as much. For this reason, one-quarter of my papabili is Latin American, a number that is proportional to their representation in the College of Cardinals, yet lower than it likely would have been at a conclave that did not follow a Latin American. Furthermore, the pope is the bishop of Rome and primate of Italy, and the Vatican is part of Italy (even if the Holy See is an independent state) with Italian as its official language. Furthermore, the past three popes have been non-Italians (although the current one is of Italian culture and parentage, which in my opinion says much about some cardinals’ desire for an at least “Italo-compatible” pope), so it is likely that there may be a push to bring the papacy back to the Apennine Peninsula. I do have to admit, though, that given the geographic diversity of the Church today, I expect that the next pope will have to have a global outlook (examples of what I mean will be below).
Having said all this, I am presenting to you my 16 most likely candidates to be the next bishop of Rome. Of course, I could be wrong, as we all know the saying that he who walks into a conclave a pope exits a cardinal. However, this is only partly true. While the elections of, say, Francis, John Paul II, and John Paul II were surprises, pretty much everyone expected the ascendancy of Benedict XVI, Paul VI, or Pius XII.
1. Péter Erdő (62 years old, Hungary) Two pontificates after John Paul II, a second pope from East-Central Europe seems likely. Cardinal Erdő is a brilliant canon lawyer and theologian with great experience as a pastor. He is quite moderate, and during his speech that opened the current extraordinary synod on the family reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on denying communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, while expressing support for making the annulment process easier. His prominent role at the synod will likely increase his fellow cardinals’ familiarity with him. A multilingual man of deep faith, he grew up in a country where the Church was greatly persecuted. Therefore, his Hungarian youth may make him sensitive to the problems of Christians persecuted by, say, ISIS in Iraq. As two-term president of the Council of the Bishops’ Councils of Europe, he has been an excellent leader, and has led frequent meetings between European and African bishops, thus showing that he is not “Euro-centric”. Also, Erdő comes from a country where Christianity is emerging from the ashes of communism, which would make him more appealing than a cardinal from a West European nation that has abandoned its faith. Already last year Erdő excited many cardinals at the conclave, yet his youth (he was just 60 then) probably made them hesitant to vote for him. The main (perhaps only?) argument against Erdő’s ascendancy is, once again, youth. In two or three years he will be only 64 or 65. Does that entail an excessively long pontificate, and will this turn off his fellow cardinals?
2. Angelo Scola (72 years old, Italy) During the last conclave, Cardinal Scola was the top papabile. By all accounts, he got a significant number of votes during the last conclave, with an average amount of about 40. As Bergoglio, the runner-up to Ratzinger in 2005 was elected eight years later, this means that past showings should be considered. Scola’s high stature as a theologian who regularly publishes in the prestigious journal Communio, leading of one of the world’s largest Catholic dioceses (Milan), commitment to the new evangelization (for example, he has initiated the distribution of passing out flyers on subways inviting lapsed Catholics to Mass), reaching out to Muslims through his Oasis project, and popular touch (which is often contrasted with Benedict XVI’s shy intellectual personality) make him likely to be elected. In recent months, I would say that Scola’s chances have increased even more. First, he has played a prominent role at the extraordinary synod on the family, and has published a series of theologically erudite articles arguing against Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to give communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. Second, his dialogue with Muslims is particularly salient given the current persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
3. Odilo Scherer (65 years old, Brazil) After Bergoglio and Scola, Cardinal Scherer probably had the third-largest number of votes at last year’s conclave. Indeed, it is clear why he should be attractive. An archbishop of the world’s largest Catholic country, he also battles secularism, which has been rising in Brazil in recent decades. He has experience both running a diocese and in the Vatican. He worked for several years for the Congregation for Bishops and working as a priest for the Diocese of Rome. Scherer is also one of the cardinals who use social media most adeptly. Next, his youth at the last conclave (63 years old) will be less of an issue at the last one. Scherer is orthodox, having opposed liberation theology in the country where it perhaps flourished most. Finally, his presence at the extraordinary synod has likely made him better known. While Scherer seems to have a perfect background to be pope, one question remains: after a Latin American, will the cardinals be reluctant to elect a second one in a row?
4. Pietro Parolin (59 years old, Italy/Vatican) In recent decades, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has lost its good reputation. At the last conclave Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was blamed for the various mismanagements during his tenure, such as the infamous Williamson case. However, this institution has also had its glory days. Pius XII and Paul VI were both Secretaries of State (even if the latter was not officially a Cardinal Secretary of State and shared the post with another prelate), while John XXIII and Pius XI also were in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. Cardinal Parolin has obviously restored the Secretariat to its glory. By all accounts, he is a holy and good-hearted priest, and is well regarded. He is a theological moderate with a slight conservative bent, and with regards to questions such as communion for divorced and remarried Catholics has spoken without taking a strong stance. Meanwhile, he has sent letters of praise to pro-life marches in Poland. Furthermore, he would know the problems of the Church on virtually all the continents, which would make him appealing to cardinals of all nationalities. A European, he has served as country director: Spain, Italy, Andorra and San Marino. He was chosen by the Venezuelan government to negotiate between the government and its opposition, helped restore the Vatican’s relations with China and helped end Mexico’s decades-long anti-clerical laws (recently, the Mexican government gave him the country’s highest civilian order). Oh, and he knows the African Church, having worked at the apostolic nunciature in Nigeria. Meanwhile, his stance as the second person in the Vatican and member of Pope Francis’ nine-member council of cardinal advisors means that most cardinals are probably quite acquainted with him. With such a perfect resume to be the next pope, why isn’t Cardinal Parolin at the top of my list? Even in two or three years, he will be just 61 or 62. That gives a pontificate that could easily last two decades. Do the cardinals really want another John Paul II-length pontificate?
5. George Pell (73 years old, Australia/Vatican) Cardinal Pell has been a member of the Sacred College since the 1990s. However, he never has been seen as particularly papabile. In my opinion, however, this is changing. As Pope Francis made him a member of his nine-cardinal advising council last year and later head of the new Secretariat of the Economy, he has solid Vatican experience, which would make him better suited to be pope, and has likely made other cardinals more familiar with him. Overall, Pell seems like an excellent choice. He is orthodox, and during his heading of the Archdiocese of Sydney priestly vocations was increased after decades of record lows. He is also quite a popular figure, and even in a secular and Protestant-majority country like Australia he is a familiar figure from the media. Pell is also very intelligent and well educated.
6. Gerhard Ludwig Müller (67 years old, Germany/Vatican) A brilliant theologian with many books and about 500 publications, Cardinal Müller has become the best-known of the 19 cardinals Francis elevated in his first consistory. He is not only a high-profile intellectual, but he also has significant pastoral experience as archbishop of Regensburg. A European, he knows the “global South” very well, having spent 15 extended visits among the poor of South America. He knows Spanish, English, and Italian, in addition to his native German. There is one big problem, though. Cardinal Müller is both a German and the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. You know who else fit that description? It is worth asking if the cardinals may be reluctant to choose someone of the same nationality and office as Benedict not long after the latter’s reign. However, these traits can be seen as superficial, of course.
7. Seán O’Malley (70 years old, United States) A Franciscan known for his humility, intelligence, friendliness, and cleaning up of scandals among the clergy (both in his native diocese of Boston and in the Vatican, chairing Pope Francis’ committee devoted to the issue), O’Malley was seen as papabile at the last conclave. Of the 10 American cardinal-electors, he by far is the best qualified. He has been a member of Pope Francis’ nine-cardinal advising council, thus increasing his Vatican experience (and, presumably, improving his Italian, which by all means is not great). He is solidly orthodox. I believe that O’Malley has a strong chance of being elected, although there could be a reaction against him among the more traditionally minded cardinals. While O’Malley is generally conservative, he has alienated orthodox Catholics by refusing to deny communion to pro-abortion politicians or asking a Protestant female clergywoman to give him a blessing.
8. Marc Ouellet (70 years old, Canada/Vatican) For a long time, Cardinal Ouellet was seen as the perfect successor to Benedict, and indeed at last year’s conclave he probably made a strong showing. He is praised for his strong theology, compassion, charisma, fight against secularism in Canada, and good choice in nominating bishops worldwide as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. He has experience as a missionary in Latin America. Naturally, he seems like a likely future pope. However, in the last conclave he repeatedly said he was terrified of being elected, and – supposedly – during the conclave told his supporters to vote for Bergoglio. Can this repeat itself? On the other hand, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger even prayed during the 2005 conclave he wouldn’t be elected, and look what happened…
9. Gianfranco Ravasi (71 years old, Italy/Vatican) Ravasi was seen as quite papabile at the last conclave. At the next one, he probably will be so as well. A prelate from the Roman curia, Ravasi nonetheless doesn’t deserve to be associated with the mismanagement of the Bertone years, and have spoken favourably of Pope Francis’ reform of the Vatican bureaucracy. He is an intellectual that is nonetheless very popular and charismatic; last year, his lectures on the thought of Albert Camus drew packed-out audiences at Rome’s most famous baroque church, Il Gesu. Ravasi’s books on the Bible have become bestsellers in Italy, and have contributed to a revival of lectio divina. His preaching of the 2013 Lenten retreat for the Roman curia and important role as rapporteur for the extraordinary synod have probably made him a pretty recognizable figure.
10. João Braz de Aviz (67 years old, Brazil/Vatican) A conservative American priest friend told me that, after Bergoglio was elected pope, he expected him to be a “Latin American Ratzinger”, yet was disappointed, and saw more of a “Latin American Martini [Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, long-time pastor of Milan and perennial papabile known for his ‘progressive’ views]”. Many cardinals seemed to think that Francis would also be a Latin American Benedict, given his orthodoxy as archbishop of Buenos Aires and staunch opposition to Marxist interpretations of liberation theology in the Jesuit order in the 1970s. If the cardinals really do want a “Latin American Ratzinger”, the current prefect Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life seems like a good choice. Orthodox and conservative, Braz de Aviz has consistently reiterated his opposition to liberation theology. He was educated in Rome and has been running a Vatican congregation for several years, so he would likely comfortably transition into the role of bishop of Rome. The question, as with all the other Latin American cardinals on this list, is: would the College be reluctant to choose two men from the same region in a row?
11. Francisco Robles Ortega (65 years old, Mexico) A conservative, orthodox prelate from Mexico, the Latin American country that – in my opinion – has most resisted secularism and the spread of Evangelical Protestantism. This could be a conservative answer to Francis. As with all the other Latin Americans on this list, however, the question remains: will the cardinals be reluctant to choose two popes from the same part of the world in a row? Furthermore, Cardinal Robles Ortega is not particularly well-known outside his native country.
12. Angelo Bagnasco (71 years old, Italy) If the cardinals will want the return to an Italian pope, yet one with an international background (he is Erdő’s deputy chief of the Council of the Bishops Conferences of Europe, so he plays a prominent role in the meetings with African prelates). Furthermore, Bagnasco is conservative, having vocally opposed attempts to legalize same-sex civil unions in Italy, yet he is by no means a traditionalist Latin Mass enthusiast like Burke or Canizares Llovera, so more moderate cardinals will not necessarily hesitate to vote for him. Italian vaticanisti confirm that there was some traction for him at the last conclave, so there is good reason to believe that he could get a decent number of votes next time.
13. Fernando Filoni (68 years old, Italy/Vatican) Like Parolin, this prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is an Italian diplomat with a global outlook, and knows the Church around the world. He has worked in apostolic nunciatures in the Philippines, Iran, Brazil and Iraq. His profile has grown significantly in recent months. Pope Francis appointed him personal envoy to Iraq, and he has recently become a champion of persecuted Christians, particularly the victims of ISIS in Iraq. Because the persecution of Christians, particularly in the Middle East, has become a key issue for the Church, Filoni has grown in importance. In 2003, when Iraq was bombed, he stayed there with his faithful while other diplomats fled (this reminds me of an interesting parallel: in 1920, during the Polish-Bolshevik War which the Poles ultimately won, two diplomats stayed in Warsaw; one was Archbishop Achille Ratti, nuncio to Poland, who would later be elected Pope Pius XI, who did not dare to abandon his flock). At the ongoing extraordinary synod on family issues, Cardinal Filoni has given a beautiful speech on the faithfulness of Iraqi families in the face of persecution. This will likely make him better known to the cardinals.
14. Wilfried Fox Napier (73 years old, South Africa) Same-sex marriage, permissive abortion laws, public secularism. Sound familiar? Not only prelates in New York or Madrid must deal with these issues, but so do those in… South Africa. In this regard, South Africa’s pastoral challenges are similar to those in the “global North”. Cardinal Napier is a conservative prelate who has battled all this, while culturally, South Africa is Africa’s most “European” country. Thus if the cardinals were to choose the first sub-Saharan African pope, Napier seems like a good transition. He’s also a Capuchin, which is a double-edged sword; the Franciscan order is popular, especially in Italy, but then again some cardinals may be hesitant to choose two popes from religious orders in a row. Oh, and before last year’s conclave Napier gave an interview. The journalist asked him what he’d do if elected. Napier said that he would abdicate, just like Benedict did, right away. Would his own reluctance to be elected be an obstacle to his possible election?
15. Norberto Rivera Carrera (72 years old, Mexico) Cardinal Rivera Carrera runs one of the world’s largest Catholic dioceses. Like Robles Ortega, he comes from one of Latin America’s most intact Catholic cultures. This prelate has emerged as a champion of the poor, and has long been in high regard. Also, Mexico City, where he is resident, is by far the most secular part of Mexico. Perhaps this could mean that this would be a Latin American pope who shares the pastoral concerns of the “global North”. However, once again, we must ask: will the cardinals be hesitant to elect two Latin Americans in a row? Furthermore, Cardinal Carrera seems to battle poverty more than secularism in Mexico. Would this suggest another Francis-style papacy?
16. André Vingt-Trois (72 years old, France) If the cardinals want a pontificate that, like Benedict XVI’s, focuses on the fight against secularism, this archbishop of Paris seems like a good choice. He recently gave a strong-worded speech at the synod deploring the fact that many Catholic couples today don’t believe that contraception is a sin, and in the past two years has been at the forefront of hundreds of thousands-strong marches against same-sex marriage. His leadership role at the synod has likely increased his profile. His being French is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the cardinals may be reluctant to choose someone who comes from a country where Catholicism has become so weakened in the past 200 years. On the other, given France’s huge contributions to the history of the Church and rich Catholic culture, the cardinals could see this as an opportunity to revive Catholicism in France, and Western Europe more broadly.