Tuesday, April 5, 2005

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Passive-aggressive opportunism and the College of Cardinals

Liz Sly has an interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune on the selection process for the next pope. Although any male Catholic can be chosen, the overwhelming probability is that the next Pope will come from the College of Cardinals -- the very body that selects the next pope.

This raises a tricky question -- how can a Cardinal who wants to be pope express that desire? As Sly explains:

It will be no ordinary election. Campaigning is frowned upon, and any cardinal who may wish to be pope would be best advised to keep that to himself. A cardinal who is seen to be pre-empting God's will by promoting his own chances would be quickly shunted aside.

So, does this make it difficult for potential prelates to make their case to fellow cardinals? Not necessarily, thanks to the Internet, as Sly explains:

In days gone by, the General Congregation would have provided a first opportunity for cardinals from far-flung places to meet and learn about each other's positions on various issues.

But in the age of jet travel and electronic communications, all the cardinals already have met at least once and are likely to be somewhat familiar with each other's reputations and policies, decreasing the likelihood that a dark horse candidate would emerge, as was the case when John Paul II was chosen.

Some cardinals have Web sites, especially those who head dioceses, on which they post their pictures, writings and biographies, making it easy for cardinals to read about each other.

The Web site of the archdiocese of Milan, for example, contains more than 120 pictures of Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi, one of the most frequently mentioned favorites for the job.

The powerful Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who as the dean of the College of Cardinals will be in charge of organizing the conclave and is expected to play a key role in brokering the selection, has his own Web site on which his extensive theological writings are posted. There also is a fan site on which admirers can purchase T-shirts, beer mugs and buttons emblazoned with Ratzinger's most important pronouncements.

In other words, candidates for the papacy can't come out and say they want to be the pope, but they can provide easily accessible information about their theological doctrines, positions, and, yes, even head shots. They can't be aggressive, but they can be passive-aggressive. [Jeez, it's almost like they're academics or something--ed.]

I eagerly await the first cardinal blog.

For more information on the selection of the next pope, visit this page at catholic-pages.com.

UPDATE: The Associated Press reports that, "In a major change to a centuries-old practice, the Vatican will ring bells in addition to sending up white smoke to signal the election of a new pope." Yep -- it's just a step or two between ringing bells and text-messaging the entire flock.

posted by Dan on 04.05.05 at 11:50 AM


Academics....now there's a hopeful thought.

The last time, broad but shallow support for one of a group of Italian cardinals was overcome by determined advocacy by a small number of cardinals, none of them from Eastern Europe, of the Polish cardinal's candidacy. This advocacy was driven by a number of factors, including personal acquaintance and respect for scholarship. Another factor, though, was that there was greater consensus then than now about the Church's main challenges. In the late 1970s these had largely to do with Communism.

What is the primary challenge facing the Church today? Relations with Islam? Not in Latin America it isn't, and almost half the world's Catholics live there. The decline of the Church in its historic European heartland? Poverty? Materialism? The rise of evangelical Protestantism? It is no criticism of John Paul II that his papacy seemed less focused in its later years than it was toward the beginning.

My own guess is that the next Pope will most likely come from Latin America, where the most Catholics live and where cultural affinities with Europe are strong enough so that a Latin American Pope would not be a jarring departure as an African or Asian might. But votes in this election will be made on a more personal basis than any other, and a cardinal who impresses his colleagues as the then-Archbishop of Cracow did may not be badly disadvantaged if he should happen to come from a small country or have an unusual background.

posted by: Zathras on 04.05.05 at 11:50 AM [permalink]

My money is on going back to an Italian. Any decision that might help the popularity of the church amongst its parishioners is certain to be rejected. Speaking as a nominal Catholic, I lost hope and interest long ago, right around the time Cardinal Law moved into cushy new Vatican digs. The day I take more than a passing interest in church affairs (much less drop so much as a penny in the plate) is the day they put a woman under the big red hat. That might give me back an ounce of trust. So basically, never.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 04.05.05 at 11:50 AM [permalink]

There's a saying about those who are labelled papabile (good candidates for pope) before they enter the conclave:

"Enter a conclave as a papabile, leave as a cardinal."

Was Wojtyla considered a frontrunner in the press before the conclave in which he was elected Pope?

posted by: David on 04.05.05 at 11:50 AM [permalink]

Before the last conclave, according to this article, Fr. Andrew Greeley picked Cardinal Franz K├Ânig of Austria at one point or later Corrado Ursi of Naples to have the votes to become pope.



posted by: David on 04.05.05 at 11:50 AM [permalink]


He was a compromise candidate.

posted by: Johnny Upton on 04.05.05 at 11:50 AM [permalink]

Did you ever read this Christopher Buckley story in the Atlantic?

It's from April 2003, and it's all about his slimy political operator, Rick Renard, electioneering for Pope.

posted by: Andy on 04.05.05 at 11:50 AM [permalink]

I think it'd be more entertaining to go back to the old method: let the ruling families of Rome have a small war, and the winner gets to pick one of their own as pope.

posted by: Barry P. on 04.05.05 at 11:50 AM [permalink]


Thank you for referencing the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club. First, I'd like to state for the record that the RFC was/is entirely a "grassroots" project, you might say a spontaneous expression of the laity expressing their appreciation for the work of the Cardinal in carrying out the duties of his office as well as his theology. We have a few seminarians on our mailing list, but no exercise of ecclesial influence. (The Cardinal has heard of us and has encountered a few "members," on occasion, much to his amusement). But I don't think you'll find any member of ours handing out buttons, lobbying cardinals or campaigning on the Cardinal's behalf -- as Mark Shea said, this isn't exactly the New Hampshire primaries. =)

As far as Ratzinger's alleged "desire" for the papacy (imputed by Ms. Sly), and the expression of that desire in the publication of his writings on "his own website" -- or, rather, the official website of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- I blogged on this question back in January: Cardinal Ratzinger - The Next Pope?:

Cardinal Ratzinger is reported to have twice handed in his resignation as Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, "only to be asked by the Pope to stay on" (source). I can't lay claim to inside sources from the Vatican, but I suspect that if the Cardinal had his druthers, he'd like to retire in peace, spending his waning years writing theology texts, playing the piano, enjoying the solitude of the Bavarian Alps.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal had previously given his preference that the next Pope "be from Africa", which was interpreted as a support for Cardinal Arinze. Who, I agree, would also be ideal given his firsthand experience dealing with Islam, the liturgy (he currently heads Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) and interreligious relations (former head of Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue) -- good experience to have, especially in this era.

If called to serve the Church in yet another capacity, I'm sure Ratzinger would be up to the task, and I'd personally be delighted by the election of either Cardinal to the office, but I try not to speculate too much. I trust the Holy Spirit to guide our Cardinals in their decision.

posted by: Christopher Blosser on 04.05.05 at 11:50 AM [permalink]

How about Pius Ncube, the archbishop of Bulawayo, for pope? Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) says of Ncube: "As an outspoken critic of the Robert Mugabe government, the Archbishop has been slandered, and lives under constant threat to his personal safety. Despite this, the Archbishop continues to be a shining light in the fight for human rights--demanding that his government address the mounting food and economic crises and put an end to torture and rape."
Sounds like the right man to me.

posted by: Amolosh on 04.05.05 at 11:50 AM [permalink]

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