17 April 2005

Waiting for Bells and White Smoke

Well, the Conclave starts tomorrow, so please God we should have our 265th Pope before too long. Watching the media babble about favourites has been interesting; it's rare to see quite so much hot air being expended at once. One thing does need clarifying, though, which is that the old Italian saying that 'he who enters the conclave a pope, leaves it a cardinal' isn't quite true. Eugenio Pacelli and Giovanni Montini were clear favourites for the Petrine Ministry in 1939 and 1963, and both men were indeed appointed, becoming, respectively, Pius XII and Paul VI.

On the other hand, they were very clear favourites. This time matters are far more murky, and it's difficult to discern a natural successor to John Paul II. There are plenty of fine candidates, but it's almost impossible for an outsider to judge if any of them is significantly better suited than the rest to lead the Church towards its third millennium.

Bear in mind how little the secular media knows on this topic. Mark Shea had some wise words on this not long ago:
When it comes to papal elections, the media are idiots who think they are covering (and influencing) the New Hampshire primaries. They. Don't. Have. A. Clue.

Exhibit A: This breathless story on Cdl. Arinze. It's dumb for so many reasons. First, it is thoroughly Americentric. We American are obsessed with questions of race because of our own tortured history, so we assume the rest of the world would be shocked by an African Pope or a Pope in a black skin.

Earth to CNN: Most of the Church is not WASPs. A Pope with a dark skin would be a Pope who looks like most of the Church. But then, most of the Church is grown up enough to not much care what color package the successor of Peter comes in. Only American think stuff like that matters.

Second: Arinze, who is telegenic and shows up in the media a lot, is one of those guys that reporters have heard of. So they naturally assume that he's "near the top of the list" since Cardinals must have "Is he telegenic?" as a big question in their minds, like media types do. They don't. Believe it or not, cardinals are actually thinking a great deal about *theology* (among many other things) as they discern this question. Arinze's theology is fine, don't get me wrong. But my point is that the media are in completely different worlds from the College of Cardinals as they jabber, predict and prognosticate.

Third: Being media types with the historical memory of fruit flies, what these guys are failing to think about is the last papal election: in which the winner blind-sided all the media experts by being some guy nobody ever heard of. My money is on it being some guy nobody ever heard of again. (I'm crossing my fingers that I'm wrong, since I'd love to see Cdl. Schoenborn become Pope. But I don't think I will be wrong. I think we will probably see some bolt from the blue. And if he's African, I will cheer very loudly, since Africa is cranking out some wonderful guys, including Arinze.)'
There are some good points there. Arinze would doubtless make a fine pope, but over the last decade the attention that had focussed on him as natural successor to John Paul may well have largely due to the media's excitement at the prospect of there being a black pope. Arinze seems to have fallen from favour - to some degree over the last year - and though this may be due to his rather conservative interpretations of doctrine, it may equally be due to people feeling that just as one shouldn't be barred from a position because of skin colour, neither should one be offered it for that reason.

From PanzerKardinal to PanzerPope?
Curiously, just as Arinze's star seems to be in decline, at least in the eyes of the media, so Ratzinger's has flared up in the last couple of weeks, largely propelled, I presume, by his fine homily at the funeral of John Paul. Again, this may simply be media hogwash, but rumours in Rome suggest that a Ratzinger papacy would have the support of at least forty to fifty cardinals, which might do more than simply float his name to honour him, before getting down to the nitty gritty of selecting a new pope. And yes, there is nitty gritty, because even if the Holy Spirit is at work, the process of selecting a new pope is still a human process. Some years ago, Cardinal Ratzinger was asked about this on German television, and replied as follows:
'I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope. ... I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined. There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked.'
So what if Ratzinger himself is picked? What should we expect? At the very least we can expect horror from the media, not least because of the fact that when Ratzinger was fourteen he was, like virtually all German boys in 1941, enlisted into the Hitler Youth. The fact that he never joined the Nazi party, and stopped attending Hitler Youth meetings soon after being enlisted, despite attendance being compulsory, probably won't cut a whole load of ice. Nor, no doubt, will his desertion from the infantry unit into which he was conscripted in late 1944. The New York Post really doesn't seem to be taking a particularly balanced approach on this one.

The Times tells us, beneath a headline that's hardly news, since Ratzinger has never concealed his childhood membership of the Hitler Youth, and has often spoken of the evil and indeed folly of the Third Reich, that one unnamed 'liberal theologian' is somewhat troubled by the prospect of a Ratzinger papacy. 'It fills me with horror,' he says. Maybe so, but if elected - and I still thing he's a long shot - Ratzinger may yet surprise us.

And who else?
To be blunt, trying to figure out who's most likely to be chosen to serve in the Petrine ministry is a fiendish task. Paddy Power decided to take bets on the Conclave, initially ranking Father Dougal at 1000-1 against - a wasted wager, that, since being fictional he has the disadvantage of being automatically disqualified - but to look at the current form-list is to confuse yourself further.

Yes, Ratzinger's prominent among the favourites, as is Arinze. Cardinal Martini, the great former archbishop of Milan is there too, though I suspect the Conclave would balk at the prospect of a second successive pope, no matter how gifted, with Parkinson's disease. That might be a shame, though. If Ratzinger is perhaps the most eminent cardinal of the Church's centre-right, Martini was for a long time surely the most papabile of the Church's centre-left. Either of the two men would make a fine pope, and a safe pair of hands, since with both men being 78, neither would be likely to serve for too long.

If Ratzinger's name is unfairly tarnished by his having been enrolled in the Hitler Youth, then I presume that of Jean-Marie Lustiger, former archbishop of Paris, is sadly polished by having lost his mother in Auschwitz. A Jewish convert, like Saint Edith Stein, Lustiger would doubtless have much to offer to the Church's dialogue with its older brother. At 78 he'd be another natural choice as an 'interim pope', but I wonder how comfortable the Cardinals would be with selecting as pope the head of such an ailing church as that in France.

There's Dionigi Tettamanzi too, of course, perhaps the most plausible of the favourites. (Should I say 'favourites'? The proper word, after all, is papabile. Hmmm.) Of the 'soft conservative' tendency, he'd be slightly closer to the centre than Ratzinger, and not nearly as controversial a candidate; though he's a respected moral theologian, thought to have ghost-written some of John Paul's encyclicals - Evangelium Vitae and Veritatis Splendor.

Apparently his critics - and there don't seem to be many serious ones - feel that he tries to be all things to all men, but from what I've seen so far I'm quite impressed. He seems fairly astute too, with an ear for a good phrase, if this is anything to go by: "The first and fundamental problem concerns us Christians and our faith: To what point are we Christians? In Europe today, the priority does not lie in 'baptizing the converted' but in 'converting the baptized.'"

Spot on, that. On the other hand, is he really so ambitious as this article makes out? Hmmmm.

Of course, there are plenty of other good options there. Canada's Marc Ouellet could be one to watch in the next conclave - though he'll be ranked as far too young now. Austria's Christoph Schoenborn looks even more promising, but again, he's too young for now. The American Francis George sounds well-suited to the task, but right now being American could definitely count against him. The Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio looks very promising, and only really has the fact of being a Jesuit against him. There's never been a Jesuit pope before. Mind you, until 1978 there'd never been a Polish one.

And I can't see anything wrong with Ennio Antonelli of Florence. Maybe it's time to give another 'smiling Pope' a chance. After all, despite the warm and sparkling brilliance of Illustrissimi, poor John Paul I hardly had time to teach the universal church anything.

As for what the next pope should be like, that's a question for the cardinals to decide. Do we want another charismatic figure or a quiet organiser? Would even a charismatic figure enable the church to battle against the apathy of the modern West? And though some people would like him to be a skilled politician - which would probably be a good thing. Others might like him to be a classical liberal, claiming that economic liberalism is 'the basis of our culture', though what 'our' means in that context is rather open to discussion. Others would argue that any prospective pope should have proven 'a powerful and positive compassion for the poor'.

That he should be a deeply holy man is something, I think, that can be taken for granted.

The thing is, there are loads of them who'd be good at one point or another; the trick is finding the right one for now. It's going to be some task and I don't envy the cardinals having to make it. This really matters, after all.

If you want to get any more information on the people and the process involved in the conclave, I'd suggest you have a look at the Papabile blog, Richard Neuhaus's Rome Diary, and glance at 'What the Cardinals Believe'. Anything by John Allen in America's National Catholic Reporter is well worth reading too.

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