Category: Archive

Conclave Conundrum

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

For one thing, Cardinal Francis Arinze, the most talked about candidate, first encountered Catholicism at an Irish missionary school in his home village in Southwestern Nigeria. He came from a family that worshiped Ibo deities.
Another African, and a plausible outsider according to some, Durbin Archbishop Wilfred Napier, spent time training as a Franciscan in Ireland.
Arinze, though, has been a durable contender for more than a decade. In December 1994, at a time when John Paul II was first showing signs of frailty, he was one of several cardinals interviewed by the New York Times magazine on the subject of the papal succession. Only one other interviewee from that long article, the 71-year-old Belgian Godfried Danneels, is still in the reckoning.
Some, like the Frenchman Roger Etchegaray, are now considered too old to be elected pope, while others have since died. John Paul II even outlived by several years Peter Hebblethwaite, the respected author of a book entitled “The Next Pope.”
The surprising election of Karol Wojtyla in 1978 and his long reign have made predicting his successor near to impossible for outsiders. In recent days, Vatican-watchers have produced their own individual lists of 10, 15 or 20 likely candidates, while conceding that the next pontiff might well have escaped their notice.
And yet observers seem certain that none of the eight voting cardinals who is either Irish-born or has identifiably Irish roots will emerge as the new pontiff. None has ever been seriously listed among the “papabili” or “popable,” which is the Vatican equivalent of the political term “electable.”
While neither Sean Brady, the current archbishop of Armagh, or Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has been awarded a cardinal’s “red hat,” there are two Irish-born cardinals eligible to vote this month in the Sistine Chapel — Martin’s predecessor, Desmond Connell, and the archbishop of St. Andrew’s and Edinburgh, Keith O’Brien, who left Northern Ireland when he was 10.
However, at 87, Cardinal Cathal Daly, the former primate of Ireland, is too old to take part. Pope Paul VI stipulated that electors had to be under 80 when the conclave gathered; John Paul II amended that slightly, allowing cardinals who’d turned 80 the day before the pope’s death to vote for his successor.
This age bar rules out Australia’s two retired cardinals — long-time Vatican official Edward Cassidy and former Sydney Archbishop Edward Clancy, who both turned 80 recently — but allows New Zealand’s Thomas Stafford Williams, who retired last month at age 75, to be one of the elite electors in the Sistine Chapel.
Four Irish-American prelates will be among those attending the conclave — Theodore McCarrick, who’s 74, Edward Egan of New York, 73, Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, 69, and the 72-year-old former archbishop of Denver, James Stafford, who now works in the Roman curia.
Individually some of them have qualities that will be high on the list of conclave’s priorities, though the chances of one of them emerging the successor to John Paul II would appear remote
For instance, the 117 cardinals will quite probably choose a candidate with Egan and Stafford’s mix of experience working both in the Vatican and with their own dioceses on the ground.
Although he has no Vatican experience, the Washington Heights, Manhattan, native McCarrick is perhaps the most “popable” of the American prelates in most other respects. He’s a self-described workaholic known for his expertise in international affairs and he loves to travel; indeed, he was criticized for spending too much time outside his diocese when he was archbishop of Newark.
And the former president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico speaks Spanish fluently, which is now virtually a requirement for the top job in the Catholic church. (A cardinal who’s weak in the area of languages may wield power but will not be pope, Vatican-watchers say.)
McCarrick is also seen as both moderate and loyal, which might be the combination that the Vatican is looking for now. On his appointment to his current position four years ago, the Washington Post reported that he’d been “described as a compassionate and adaptable spiritual teacher who faithfully applies the Vatican’s teachings.”
These four Americans are also in the right age group too. A decade ago, the college of cardinals, it’s said, would have looked for a pope in his mid-60s, but after such a long papacy the speculation is that it will now want a slightly older man.
There are, however, two reasons why the election of an American pope is highly unlikely. The first is the continuing fallout over the sex-abuse scandals. (In recent months, Los Angeles’ Mahony has been in the eye of the storm.)
But the United States superpower status is a more important obstacle. In the modern era, the Vatican has preferred to keep as neutral as possible in geopolitical conflict. The fact that after its unification in 1861 Italy was a relatively minor player on the world stage helped that nation’s cardinals maintain their papal monopoly for so long.
Such a consideration would likely also exclude a churchman from America’s staunchest ally, Britain. But the combative Cormac Murphy O’Connor of Westminister and Scotland’s O’Brien might have excluded themselves anyway by being too controversial domestically.
Murphy O’Connor recently gave what’s been described as a “soft endorsement” to the Tories in the upcoming election because of their more restrictive abortion policy.
The Westminster cardinal is generally considered rather more conservative than his predecessor. Whereas, for instance, Basil Hume took on the right-wing Opus Dei in his archdiocese, Murphy O’Connor has given the group control of its own parish.
In all of this, of course, he’s in the orthodox mainstream. But it’s one thing taking on an authoritarian government as Karol Wojtyla did in Poland, it’s quite another inserting oneself gauchely in democratic politics, as American bishops have been doing. While cardinals may admire strong stands, the people who take them can make them nervous.
In his 1996 book, “Inside the Vatican,” the American Jesuit Thomas J. Reeves wrote: “Few cardinals today would want to entrust the papacy to a cardinal who through words or deeds would be a public relations disaster.”
Even some traditionalists might prefer to play safe with a diplomatic reformer like the Belgian Daneels rather than the witty and engaging conservative Arinze, who’s been known to make remarks off the cuff.
The popular 65-year-old O’Brien has gotten himself in media hot water on more than one occasion. He described, for instance, a recent sex-education program as “state-sponsored sex abuse.”
Bookmaker Paddy Power has kept faith with O’Brien, who has him listed at an unlikely 20-1 to become pope. Power may the Irishman who will get the most attention in these coming weeks, as the international media flails around looking for inside information. Back in November, the Chicago Tribune noted the Irish bookmaker’s interest in the papacy, adding that he correctly called that month’s presidential election.
An English bishop who denounced the betting company’s focus on the papal succession as “distasteful” only served to attract British punters to Murphy O’Connor and O’Brien. Both were listed at 12-1 last month.
Not long ago, Boston’s Sean Patrick O’Malley was at 14-1, though as an American and the first non-cardinal since 1378, his elevation to pontiff would truly be a miracle.
Though Fr. Dougal Maguire of Craggy Island has been added to the list at 1,000-1 to be elected pope, a certain realism has crept into the Power book in recent days.
For instance, Cardinal Giacomi Biffi of Milan has dropped from 10-1 to 18-1. Biffi, once a serious contender, might have ruined his chances in 2000 when he suggested that if the anti-christ was walking among us, it was not as a outward monster, but as a philanthropist with a fascinating personality, who was also likely to be a vegetarian and a supporter of animal rights.
However, Power’s top three contenders have remained the same since before John Paul’s death — the Italian Dionigi Tettamanzi, the Honduran Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga and Arinze.

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