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