Given my somewhat vested interest as to who might be the next pope following Benedict XVI (#266) I spend considerable mental energy, each day, trying to determine how the dynamics of the ongoing (and very unfortunate) clergy sex abuse scandal will tilt the balance in favor of one class of papabili versus another. A week ago I stated, categorically, that based on the current uproar the next pope may have to be a Vatican outsider. Now, having seen what has unfolded since, I am willing to go further and state that my long held hope that the next pope may be from Latin America appears to be looking even more promising by the day.
Many of the European cardinals are not doing themselves any favors of late.
That is OK. Let me remind you that in 1245, Innocent IV (#181) prescribed that cardinals wear a red hat to signify their willingness to shed their blood in the defense of the Church – that having been a time of crusades and conflicts. Well, many of the European cardinals have, of late, appear to be willing to sacrifice their credibility (if not their blood) to defend the pope and the Church. That is good. It is what they are supposed to do, though history tells us that this was not always the case. But, note that I stress that it is the European cardinals that have been in the fore to rush to the defense of the pope. The non-European popes have been much more reticent. There are multiple reasons for this. Some plain ‘mechanical.’ The European cardinals have greater access to the media and the media is more attracted to them … given their birthright status. Comments from a cardinal from Italy, Austria or France will invariably garner more interest in the West than those from cardinals from India, Australia or Viet Nam.
But, I have to also warn YOU that public opinion means diddly when it comes to a papal election.
Papal Elections Don’t Reflect The Wishes Of The Constituents
Papal elections are unique. Though the next pope will head up a billion strong constituency spread across all of the inhabited continents of the world, he will be elected by ~110, predominantly white, unmarried, supposedly celibate males, 72 years old on average – most of who have enjoyed extremely cosseted lives since becoming Princes of the Church.
I could say that the cardinals electing the next pope is akin to the U.S. senate electing the next U.S. president. But that would not be a valid comparison. Though the current U.S. senate also happens to be a predominantly white male institution, all the senators are, however, elected on a state by state basis.
None of the cardinals are elected.
The cardinals are not accountable to anyone. Only the pope can call them to task or deprive them of their title.
They have tenure for life.
As far as I can work out, the last cardinal whose resignation was accepted by a pope was way back in 1927! Even Cardinal Law, once of Boston, so implicated in the inexcusable shenanigans that took place in Boston is still a cardinal!
Papal elections are by secret ballot and we are not even supposed to know what the final numbers were. So there is really no foolproof way to know which cardinal electors voted for a pope, unless we are told that the election was near unanimous … and that, ironically, is unlikely, with even Benedict XVI supposedly receiving 30 or so votes against him on the last ballot. Hence, cardinal electors do not have to worry whether their constituency will ever criticize them for the way they voted.
To be cardinal is to be truly blessed. Power and largess for life with zero accountability.
Consequently, it is always difficult to predict how the cardinal electors will behave come a conclave – the machinations of the Holy Spirit being the only possible variable.
Can They, Will They Put Aside Self Interest?
Given the above factors what the cardinals are currently saying and doing will have zero impact as to their chances of getting elected pope.
It is not what the outside world thinks or cares that matters – it is ONLY what their fellow electors feel that matters. It is kind of scary, BUT true.
Consequently, one can argue that it really doesn’t matter if many of the European cardinals appear to be lemmings jumping off the cliff. As long as they have the backing of 70 other lemmings they could get elected.
But, I am hoping different. In 1241 Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II accused the then cardinals of: “Like serpents you cling to the earth instead of raising yourself to the skies. Each of you are aiming at the tiara, and no one of you is willing to leave it to the other …” Some of that is still applicable 700 years later.
My hope, however, is that ONE of the more positive outcomes from this current conflagration would be that the ~55 European electors opt to forgo their own personal interests.
I have documented the current demographics of the College of Cardinals, as of March 31, 2010 <here>.
So let us do some speculating using the 108 electors that we have today.
The European vs. Non-European split is uncanny; 55 vs. 53 – basically 50:50. 72 votes will be needed to become pope. So the European vs. Non-European split alone is adequate to get a pope elected.
Within this electorate it is difficult to really talk about a ‘conservative’ vs. ‘liberal’ split. All 108 were handpicked by two of the most ardently conservative popes of recent times. I have even read that nearly all had to sign a ‘disclosure’ confirming that their beliefs were consistent with that of John Paul II (#265). That said, there are definitely shades of gray within the ranks – though, I, like many, are not sure whether there is enough graduation here to be the only factor in an election.
We thus come to the clergy abuse scandal and its fallout.
But we also have to factor in timing. So what I am speculating here will only apply to the next 18 months. OK?
Picking The Next Pope Against The Backdrop Of The Scandal
I have already said, going into a fair amount of detail within the book, that I doubt whether the next pope will be from the U.S., Germany or Poland. That was all independent of the scandal.
I doubt whether we will see a cardinal from Ireland, Netherlands or Switzerland.
As I have already said, it will probably also have to be a Vatican outsider – in particular one not associated with any of the curial ‘departments’ in anyway involved with disciplining or transferring clergy.
I basically think that all the European and US cardinals are now in some way tainted. The public actions of many during the last few weeks didn’t do them any favors. Too many came across as cosseted, spoilt and uncaring. I was waiting to hear one of them say ‘let them eat cake!’
But, it is still up to the electors to take all of this into account. And that is the scary part. They can, if they want, be bull headed and elect a pope who may have a history – as does the current pope.
When they elected Benedict XVI, some of them at least, would have KNOWN that he had a history.
But, my hope is that there will be 75-80 electors who genuinely want to resurrect the Church. My hope is that they prevail, before and during the conclave, in insisting that they must elect a pope who has ‘clean hands.’ And that is where things get so fascinating.
Though we have heard of the scandal mainly as it relates to Europe and the USA, it is much more widespread. There have been incidents in India, Australia and Mexico. I can’t believe that nothing ever took place in Canada. That probably also applies to the African countries.
But, I just have a feeling that the problem wasn’t as bad in some of the Latin American and African countries. Plus, as I said at the start, cardinals from many of these countries have tried to stay out of the media during the recent flap. That could help them.
Fifteen months ago when I did my papabili list for 2009 I did favor Latin American, Canadian and African cardinals. I kind of feel good about this now. Maybe my exact picks may not get elected. But in terms of geography I might have got close.
Let me know. This is all speculation on my part.