by Anura Guruge
Pope Benedict XVI becomes the 7th oldest pope. July 19, 2010 post.
Pope Benedict XVI was the 5th oldest to be elected pope. July 21, 2010 post.
The length of the past papacies, July 28, 2010 post.
The youngest popes. June 24, 2010 post.
Papabili 2009 list, as it appeared in Anura Guruge’s ‘The Next Pope’ book.
Per my self appointed task, I have again been pondering papabili, post the November 20, 2010 cardinal creating consistory. As is my wont, I do this by staring at various tables — all of which, given my my penchant for data, have the ages of the prospective cardinals.
Then it hit me last night. I have been wrong! I had maintained that the next pope, when elected, will not be over 75 … bearing in mind, that the current pope, Benedict XVI (#266), at 78 years and 3 days, was the 5th oldest pope to be elected since 1400. [Refer to the links at top.]
Thanks to advances in medicines, health care and diagnostic technologies, people, around the world, but particularly so in the developed countries are living longer and longer. The current pope, at 83, has the best medical care ever received by a pope. The pope has an elder brother, a priest, who is still alive at 89. The chances are that the pope will also live to be 89, if not more.
The average age of the eighty non-elector cardinals is 83.3 years.
Today, we have to assume that the next pope, unless he already had serious health problems when elected (and even then, as with Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien who has a pace maker for his heart, modern health care could still do miracles), is likely to live to be at least 85. Look at the statistics.
The cardinal electors, intentionally or otherwise, will have to recalibrate their expectations when thinking about the next pope. Today’s 75 was the 65 around the time of Good Pope John (#262). [And even he was elected at the age of 76.]
A cardinal elected at 70 as the next pope could easily enjoy a 15 year papacy. That is not exceptionally long, but long enough. Popes can change over the course of that time, especially if they are older.
Yes, of course, Canon Law explicitly permits a pope to legitimately retire — and Benedict XVI, in his recent, much publicized ‘book-length’ interview, talked about the possibility popes retiring [i.e., resigning]. But, this is a long shot. For very good reasons, we haven’t had a pope resign in close to 600 years. Yes, there are other means whereby the papal ‘court’ can force a succession — but again today’s far superior medical technology puts a crimp in that too. Plus, there is the whole issue that when a pope ceases to be, his inner circle lose their jobs, status and power. Consequently, those closest to a pope will do their best to prevent a pope from resigning [unless, of course, he has driven them all way beyond distraction]. There are credible accounts that the last two years of John Paul II’s reign was but a ‘puppet regime.’
This could be a dilemma for electors when it comes to the next pope.
This potential for exceptional longevity changes many of the ‘ground rules.’ There is a lot of talk right now that it is time for another Italian pope. That could very well be the case. But, would they want an Italian pope who might reign for 15 years?
This issue of potentially protracted papacies get even more ‘complicated’ when we start thinking of ‘change.’ We have never had a Latin American pope or even a pope from the Americas (and before anybody gets excited, I am thinking Canada, not the USA). Will the electors be willing to make such a big change if they think they will not get a chance to rectify it for over 15 years. When I put together my 2008 papabili list, I excluded Brazil’s highly regarded Cardinal Cláudio Hummes as being too old and went with the considerably younger Scherer. I have had many e-mails and online comments about Cardinal Hummes. The way I am thinking now … he looks GOOD!
And this is where it starts getting ‘scary.’ The next conclave may not happen till 2016 or even later. Cardinal Hummes would be 82 in 2016. That is one year younger than Benedict XVI is today. At 82, assuming he is healthy, he would make an interesting choice. A potential 5 to 7 year ‘transitional’ papacy. It is always worth remembering that you do not need a length papacy to get things done. Good Pope John’s papacy lasted 4 years and 218 days.
So food for thought.
I am going to change my guidelines. I am going to start focusing on cardinals 75 or over!