Nov 012010

by Anura Guruge

Papal election dynamics — the unsaid & even subliminal factors — Nov. 1, 2010 post

Anura Guruge's not people person candidates to be the next popeAs I write this, I am still both amazed that this question actually needs to be asked, and, furthermore, bemused, that many, Catholics and otherwise, will ardently maintain, sans cynicism or irony, that the pope does not have to be people person. [I am intentionally going to steer away from the word ‘charisma’ because of the spiritual and theological connotations some will associate with it. But, I think we all know a ‘people person’ at first sight.]

That a pope does not have to be a people person bothers me, though I understand where those that maintain that are coming from. I am not sure whether the current pope, Benedict XVI (#266), is a people person. I would think Pius XII (#261) wasn’t a people person. Ditto for Benedict XV (#259). So the crux is that you can be an effective pope without being a people person. That, though to me sad, is, nonetheless, a fact of life.

In this I am reminded of something I myself was told 30 years ago. I was a 27 year old newly minted manager at ITT (UK). I had a bunch of folks working for me. I was blessed to have a very savvy secretary called Jean Spiller, who had much more experience in the business world than I. One day she told me: ‘Anu, you are trying too hard to be liked by your group. That is not what is important. As long as they respect you it doesn’t really matter whether they like you or not.’ This Jean Spiller maxim seems to be something that many a Pontifex Maximus seem to appreciate — and one that their electors, the under-80 cardinals (as a group not the most vivacious of men), appear to bank on.

Respect, awe, authority, infallibility (à la Pio Nino (#256)) and maybe even some absolutism (as with John Paul II (#265)) will work for a pope. But, what I ponder is whether, given the challenges, it would behoove the church to pick a people person as the next pope.

In 1978 Andrew Greeley in his job description for the next pope asked for a holy man with a smile. He got one, but he didn’t last long. The next one, had a smile and abundance of warm personality at the start.

Being a holy man with a smile could be quite an asset for the next pope, though those tasked with electing him (with their average of 72), may not think the smiling part is that important — because it is something that many of them have forgotten how to do (though thankfully there are brilliant exceptions).

As soon as I mentioned that I considering the Swiss Kurt Koch, the soon to be cardinal, as a papabile, on October 24, I was told that he has a reputation for being ‘brilliant,’ but is not a people person.

I had heard similar, though the words were slightly more harsh, about the ‘Tanned Ratzinger,’ cardinal presumptive Albert Malcolm Ranjit Patabendige Don from my Sri Lanka. [Just to be fair, this might be how he was raised — a personality traits then favored by the upper middle class in the newly liberated British ex-colonies. The amazingly good looking Pakistani cricketer (and now politician) Im ran Khan wrote something like this in his first autobiography: ‘Yes, people accuse me of being arrogant, but, that is how I was brought up.‘ Imran had nailed it, better than any six he ever hit. So I am labeling this the Imran defense for Patabendige Don as pope.]

I have read that the other ‘Ratzinger,’ the little one from Spain, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, described by those that know him as a great administrator, but not much of a pastor. Reading between the lines that could mean he isn’t much of a people person either.

As soon as I published, in December 2008, Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer as my #1 papabili pick, I got e-mails from people who had concerns about his personality. The word ‘dour’ came up too many times. I am, however, surprised that he still makes other papabili lists (and often wonder whether my choice influenced the attention he now gets).

So, I have four potential papabili considered to be not a people person. But, as I point out in this post, being a people person may not be an important enough requisite factor when it comes to the voting. This, by any measure and any interpretation, is a conservative electorate. Having another conservative pope, to further entrench the beliefs of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, for example when it comes to the traditional Latin liturgy (i.e., along the lines of Benedict XV’s Summorum Pontificum Motu Proprio), may prove to be a much greater impetus than having a people person pope. Both of the new Ratzingers (as has the more personable but equally conservative Candian/Curial Cardinal Marc Ouellet) have already demonstrated their commitment to fostering the Latin Mass. In fact, it is their conservative values that actually make them strong papabili.

Gianfranco Ravisi, a people person, who is now a papabili

Gianfranco Ravisi, a people person, who is now a papabili

All of this said, I continue to see a groundswell, within the last week, of growing support for the soon to be Italian Cardinal, the avuncular but very poised, Gianfranco Ravisi. I have already had a number of people tell me that he is the top Italian pick, leapfrogging Angelo Scola who I had at #5. At 68, his age is in the Goldilocks range: not too old nor too young. He is said to be a people person. Lets just hope that that is not held against him by his fellow electors.

All the best.

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Winston Churchill

  5 Responses to “Does The Next Pope Need To Be A People Person?”

  1. The next pope should have a balance of both firmness and diplomacy. Firm in upholding traditional values and at the same time diplomatic in having them done. It is a plus if the next pope is a people person but then again Rome and the whole Catholic Church would not rise up in arms if the next pope is very serious and does not have any sense of humor. But as the saying goes laughter is the best medicine so if the next pope does not have any sense of humor we might expect a short pontificate. That’s just my opinion

  2. I actually agree with ALL you say though I am not sure whether laughter prolongs to your life … because if so, I should live forever.
    But, this is good.
    Thank you. Cheers.

  3. Dear Father,
    Another excellent comment. Thank you. We are indeed blessed to have your support.
    But, I am NOT sure that I buy your statement: ‘To be a “people person” nowadays would mean that the pope has to be in contact with the people.’
    I could, as ever be wrong, since I like to flirt with fallibility on a daily basis, but to me having contact with people does not make you a ‘people person’. What makes you a ‘people person’ is HOW you make contact with people. Big difference to me.
    As I said in my post, I refrained from using the word ‘charisma’ because of its spiritual and theological connotations. But, ‘people persons’ have a quality about them. I hate all that mumbo-jumbo, touchy feeley stuff about energy, vibes, auroras etc., I have personally experienced the text book definitions for extrovert and introvert. An extrovert absorbs energy from others when interacting with them, while introverts lose their energy to others during interactions. I have been diagnosed as an off-the-scale extrovert. I thrive in crowds … of strangers. I work the crowds. Talk to all, and as my wife will always say, ‘flirt, shamelessly, with all females irrespective of looks, age or status.’ I used to do tons of public seminars. I could lecture for 7 hours on my feet and not feel tired. Energized. If they were multi-day seminars, as most were, I was also known to party till early in the morning, though I was expected to ‘perform’ all day. In contrast, a number of different partners I have had over the years, would be DRAINED from the interactions with people. Same here. I like to entertain. Part of our marriage vows were that I would be allowed to invite people for dinner at short or no notice. Did that a few weeks ago. Invited 6 people from the U.K. for dinner at 45 minutes notice. Yes, we always have food in the freezer for such events and I helped my wife. I thrive. My feels drained. So … that is … extrovert/introvert.
    There does not have to be a correlation between extrovert and being a people person (though dear Fr. John could probably find one which probably will have to do with the number of priests that have heard your confessions) … though I think most people persons are also extroverts … because it helps. So, there is some ‘energy’ like quality to being a people person.
    My mother was a people person par excellence. But, she was something else. She could go on a 1/2 day bus tour to Chartes, and when she came back she would have 40 pieces of paper with the names and addresses of all the people, their birthdays and the birthdays of THEIR children! Given this knack, she, though a diplomat’s wife, transcended all politics and protocols and dealt with people on a different level. Two instances stand out. Somewhere in 1982, when I was waiting my citizenship from Britain, I told my mother that I a letter from the Home Office was late in coming. On the phone, from Paris, she says: “Do you want me to call the Queen and get her to look into it”! She was not joking. She had met the queen a few times, and the queen had, like all others, given her her personal phone number. That is a people person. Early 1985. Paris. My mother, early in the morning, gets a phone call, from a person unknown, that informs her that her husband will be killed that day. This was at the height of the Sri Lankan conflict — and he was the Ambassador in Paris. Now there is a protocol to deal with such threats. Not for my mother. Mitterrand, the president, was HER FRIEND. She called him up, on his private number, at like 7:30am. Forget normal protocol. Within 10 minutes their apartment was surrounded by French ARMY personnel. People person. My father was embarrassed. I gather Mitterrand had no problem with it and was glad that my mother had called him directly!
    So ….
    Sorry to bore you with those old family stories, but I think that to ME … that shows you what a people person is … as opposed to a person that has contact with a lot of people.

  4. Thank you. I think we are in agreement. All the best. This is great.

  5. This article from a Sri Lanka Web site was posted on my Papam blog ( today. WOW.

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