Italian Cardinal Scola Once Again Emerging as Papal Favorite


I don’t think Cardinal Scola would make the best pope but I believe he has the best chance of winning, especially in the early voting. My profile of him for


An Italian cardinal close to Benedict XVI is emerging as the front-runner in early voting to elect a new Pope, Vatican observers say.

After a week of deliberations, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, is coming to the fore and could win the support of as many as 40 out of the 77 needed to be elected Pope in the first round of voting in the conclave, which begins Tuesday.

For a number of years, Scola has been the bookies’ favorite, but in recent months other cardinals have usurped his pole position on lists of “papabili,” or leading contenders for the papacy. Now he appears to be making a late resurgence, backed by American cardinals and a wide number of Europeans.

So who is he, and what really are his chances? A man of humble roots – his father was a truck driver, his mother a homemaker – Angelo Scola was born in Malgrate, a village close to Milan, in 1941 and grew up in a small apartment on a farm on the edge of some woods. He has been a priest for more than 42 years, holds doctorates in theology and philosophy, and was actively involved in “Communion and Liberation” – a lay movement aimed at evangelization.

After teaching in various academic institutions, he was consecrated a bishop in 1991, then served as rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, and headed the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in 1995.

But most crucially, Scola went on to lead two major Sees in Italy, often seen as stepping stones to the papacy. In 2002, John Paul II appointed him Patriarch of Venice, where he also served as head of the bishops in the region. Nine years later, Benedict XVI appointed him Archbishop of Milan – Italy’s largest and arguably most prestigious archdiocese.

Benedict respects and admires Scola and the two have been close friends for many years: Both are of the same mind in terms of theology, and come out of the “Communio” theological school co-founded by Joseph Ratzinger soon after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Both admire the 20th century theologians Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar – proponents of Church reform but in continuity with tradition.

Scola’s influence in the previous pontificate was already felt: It was he, insiders say, who gave Benedict XVI the idea to create a new Vatican department geared toward the “New Evangelization” – an effort to re-evangelize once-Christian but increasingly secular Western societies. Moreover, Benedict has closely confided in Scola: The last conversation he had as Pope was reputedly a lengthy telephone call with the Italian cardinal shortly before he left the Vatican on Feb. 28.

On appointing him Archbishop of Milan, Benedict XVI soon after bestowed the pallium (an important vestment symbolizing the jurisdiction given to a bishop by the Holy See) on him at a separate private ceremony – a move some read as the “anointing of a successor.”

In 2005, the German pontiff had already shown his esteem for Scola by appointing him the head of synod on the Eucharist; such an appointment is often taken to mean that the Pope sees a particular cardinal as going places and, invariably, as a potential successor.

But will the other cardinals look upon him in a similar fashion? The Italian cardinal’s closeness to the Communion and Liberation (CL) movement may work against him. The group, which has a popular following in Italy and is well regarded for its educational outreach, has also been tarnished by associations with corrupt Italian politicians.

But Scola has sought to distance himself from the movement and was applauded for not bringing in friends from it to serve in Milan’s curia, instead filling positions also with members of Catholic Action, another Church movement — but one which has had public disputes with CL.

Indeed, the way he has handled management of the diocesan curia is proof he can govern, his supporters say – a key skill cardinals are said to be looking for in the next Pope. Also, being an Italian but outside the Roman Curia, Scola is believed to be in an ideal position to reform it of malpractice and corruption. However, apart from his Oasis initiative, many say his record in Venice was nondescript.

Scola has long been concerned with the nature and mission of the Church in the world. His world view comes across as more positive and optimistic than those of his predecessor: He is skeptical of descriptions of a “Church in crisis,” and he doesn’t like the expression “the crisis of the family.”

Rather, he believes there still is a big zest for family life and “we are just living through the period of big choices.” The problem, according to Scola, is not that today’s men and women don’t consider families important, but they don’t know how to preserve them.

Scola’s ability to remain in the top ranks of leading papal candidates is a testament to his suitability. But although he has the common touch and is generally good with the media, he is not the best communicator (his addresses can be long-winded and overly intellectual), his English is faltering, and at 71, he may be considered too old. It’s also said an insufficient number of Italian cardinals – the largest national block – are likely to rally around him.

If an alternative candidate emerges, offering a more dynamic possibility to that of continuity with the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, support for Scola is likely to fall.

At the moment, however, the Italian cardinal still leads the pack.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Papal Conclave 101: The Mechanics of Electing a New Pope


VATICAN CITY — By the time all 115 grand electors travel the short distance from their Vatican City residence to the Apostolic Palace at 3:45pm on Tuesday, many will have clear favorite candidates in mind.

Their discernment process over the past few weeks appears to have been conclusive: The cardinals’ “unanimous” decision last Friday to begin the conclave March 12 suggests quite a few minds are made up. The consensus, therefore, is that this conclave could be relatively brief and may well be over by Friday.

There’s “no reason to believe it will take long,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told journalists Saturday. The average length of a conclave over the past century has been three days.
Shortly before 4:30pm in the Pauline Chapel, a magnificent 16th-century place of worship containing the last two paintings of Michelangelo, the cardinals will participate in a short ceremony, over which the senior cardinal in the hierarchy — Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re — will preside. After proclaiming the words, “May the Lord, who guides our hearts in the love and patience of Christ, be with you all,” Cardinal Re will invite his confreres to process towards the Sistine Chapel.

As he does so, he prays words that include: “May the Lord direct our steps along the path of truth, so that, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints, we may always do that which is pleasing to him.”

During the procession into the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals will sing the Litany of the Saints, followed by Veni Creator Spiritus, the Latin hymn invoking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A few names in the litany have been introduced but are not customarily recited. These include the patriarchs and prophets Abraham, Moses and Elijah, St. Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia, St. Patrick of Ireland and some popes, including St. Pius X.

As they enter the site of the conclave — swept of bugging devices and complete with specially furnished chairs, tables and an elevated floor — the magnitude and weight of their responsibility will be all too real as Michelangelo’s Last Judgment towers above them.

With the electors having taken their places, Cardinal Re will administer an oath to them by reading aloud a Latin text that promises to “observe faithfully and scrupulously the prescriptions” contained in Universi Dominici Gregis, the apostolic constitution on the papal elections.
The cardinal electors, Cardinal Re will say, must “promise, pledge and swear” that whoever is elected “will commit himself faithfully to carrying out” the Petrine ministry and “not fail to affirm and defend strenuously the spiritual and temporal rights and liberty of the Holy See.” The oath also reminds them to observe rules governing secrecy and to “never lend support or favor” to any outside interference or intervention.

Total Confidentiality

Total confidentiality regarding what transpires during the election, and any violation of that confidentiality, is taken extremely seriously. During the course of the conclave, the camerlengo, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and three assistants act as vigilanti.

They are also assisted by trustworthy technicians who will have ensured that all of the off-limits area is free of surreptitiously installed devices, concealed with the intent of recording or transmitting what takes place. Intentional use of such instruments “is absolutely forbidden,” as is any communication or conversation with persons outside. The cardinals are also not allowed to receive messages, newspapers or publications of any kind, nor follow news bulletins via audio or video transmissions.

In his recent motu proprio Norma Nonnullas, Benedict XVI introduced the penalty of automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See for anyone violating this norm of confidentiality.

After Cardinal Re has administered the oath, the electors will then individually swear upon it. While placing their hands on the page of sacred Scripture, they will each say: “And I, X Cardinal X, do so promise, pledge and swear. So help me God and these holy Gospels, which I touch with my hand.”

When the last of the electors has sworn this oath, the master of papal liturgical celebrations, Msgr. Guido Marini, gives the order extra omnes, ordering all those not taking a direct part in the election to leave the Sistine Chapel immediately.

At this juncture, one of two commissioned conclave preachers, Cardinal Prospero Grech, will share a meditation, directing the minds of the grand electors to the grave task before them, on the need to act with right intention for the good of the universal Church — solum Deum prae oculis habentes (having only God before their eyes).

The 87-year-old Maltese cardinal and Msgr. Marini will then leave the Sistine Chapel, and the cardinal electors are now completely alone with God.

Cardinal Re will then ask those present whether the election may begin or if there are still points requiring clarification. If the majority agrees that there is nothing to prevent the process from beginning, it starts immediately.

Voting Commences

The papal election consists of four “scrutinies” (votes) a day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, except on Tuesday, when there will be only one vote. But the first scrutiny has three phases to get the ball rolling. The first phase — called the pre-scrutiny phase — comprises the preparation and distribution of the ballot papers by the masters of ceremonies, who will have been readmitted into the chapel. At least two or three ballot papers are given to each cardinal elector.
During the second phase, the junior cardinal deacon will draw by lot three cardinal electors to be scrutineers, another three to be infirmarii to collect the votes of any sick electors and three more to be revisers, double-checking the vote counts. The final phase is the actual voting: Anyone who is not an elector must again leave the chapel, and the compilation of the ballot papers begins.
Voting is done in secret, each elector writing legibly the name of the person of his choice, if possible in handwriting not easily identifiable as his, in a manner that the completed paper can be folded lengthwise. Up until the conclave of 1958, cardinal electors could sign their names on the papers; now it is totally anonymous.

Each cardinal elector, holding his completed and folded ballot aloft between thumb and forefinger, and in view of all the others, then processes with it to the large chalice-like urn placed in front of the scrutineers. There he stops and declares aloud: “I call as my witness Christ the Lord, who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.” After placing his ballot in the urn, he then bows in reverence and returns to his place.

Counting the Ballots

Once all 115 have voted, the scrutineers, seated at a table in front of the altar, add up all the votes that each individual has received. This process, too, is full of ritual.

The first scrutineer takes a ballot, unfolds it and notes the name of the person for whom the vote was cast. He passes it in silence to the second scrutineer, who likewise notes the name written on the ballot before passing it to the third scrutineer, who reads it out in a clear voice, audible to all the cardinal electors present so that they can hear and record the vote. He himself writes down the name he has just read aloud and then inserts a needle through the word Eligo (I elect …) on each ballot, drawing a thread through to be knotted securely at both ends, so that they’re not misplaced.

The sum of votes obtained by different papabili (cardinals believed capable of becoming pope) is calculated and recorded on a separate sheet of paper. This concludes the second phase of the election by scrutiny.

If anyone has obtained two-thirds of the votes cast plus one (in this election, 77 votes), then he has been canonically and validly elected pope. Otherwise, another scrutiny is held. Either way, “revisers” must check the ballots and notes taken by the scrutineers to make sure that the scrutiny has been conducted faithfully.

From Wednesday onwards, if a second ballot needs to take place, it will be held immediately. All ballot papers will be burned at the end of the morning or afternoon session, including any personal notes the electors may have made in the course of the voting. The results of the vote, however, are placed in a sealed envelope and kept in a specially designated archive.

The Vatican stressed last week that if no pope is elected in the first four days of voting that the cardinals will take a pause on the fifth day (Saturday, March 16) in order to “pray, speak freely among themselves and listen to a brief exhortation given by the senior cardinal in the Order of Deacons.”

The voting will then resume with two days of voting and a pause for prayer on the third day, until the 34th vote on the afternoon of the 11th day. In balloting thereafter, only the two names that received the greatest number of votes in the previous scrutiny will be voted upon. Again, one of these two candidates must receive at least two-thirds of the votes (Benedict XVI changed it from a simple majority in 2007) if they are to be elected, and these two candidates cannot vote.

Gauging Support

The first vote is significant, as it will allow the cardinal electors to get the “lay of the land” in a concrete way. As Jimmy Akin explains here, up until now, the electors have a vague idea of support for various candidates; now, they will be able to factor in that real backing in the next ballot.

Some candidates will gain support; others will lose it. And if the leading candidates in the first vote fail to win a two-thirds majority after several ballots, support will be transferred to someone else.
John XXIII once noted how candidates bob up and down during votes “like peas in a pot of boiling water.” A cardinal may keep climbing up until he is near the two-thirds majority, but then fade, as people conclude he hasn’t the numbers and switch to someone else. He may then later re-emerge when other candidates similarly lose favor.

Italian Vatican observers are predicting that Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, is likely to do well in the first ballot, possibly acquiring between 30 and 40 votes.
But American cardinals Sean O’Malley and Timothy Dolan, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer are also expected to poll well in early voting, possibly acquiring anywhere from 12 to 20 or more votes.

Other cardinals to receive a scattering of votes in the first scrutiny could be Cardinals Turkson, Tagle and Erdo, according to some Vaticanists, but this is all mere speculation.
The Holy Spirit will be at work, and he is known for springing surprises.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Sistine Chapel Conclave Preparation Nears Completion


Preparations to ready the Sistine Chapel are nearing completion in time for the conclave to begin on Tuesday.

Restorers, electricians, mechanics, carpenters, seamstresses, assemblers, electronic technicians and other labourers have been hard at work since Tuesday, fitting two stoves and a chimney to burn the ballots and reveal the election results (white smoke = pope elected; black smoke no result). Earlier today, firemen installed the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, from which the world will be able to see the smoke’s color.

Carpenters have laid an elevated floor in the Chapel to create a uniform area to work and walk on, and to protect the original mosaic paving. Meanwhile, seamstresses have been sewing together lengths of cloth to create table covers.

Around the altar, 115 cherry wood chairs have been put in place, each engraved with the name of the cardinal who will occupy it, with 12 wooden tables covered in beige and bordeaux fabric where the cardinals will prepare their ballots. They will cast their votes in front of Michelangelo’s fresco of “The Last Judgment” on the wall of the altar.

Photo: EP

The Vatican says that after the chimney is installed, it will be submitted to a series of tests using chemicals to emit a yellow smoke so as not to confuse the increased number of passers-by in St. Peter’s Square.

The chimney is just the last piece of the mechanism that will produce the smoke. The two iron stoves it is attached to were installed yesterday.

The first stove (on right in picture) was cast in 1938. It has the dates of the five conclaves it has been used in etched upon it—from the one electing Pius XII in 1939 until the latest, when Cardinal Ratzinger became Benedict XVI in 2005. This older oven is used to burn the balloting papers.

The modern one (pictured, on the left), is equipped with an electronic device and will add the chemicals to produce the black or white smoke indicating the result of the voting until the election occurs.

There are two voting sessions planned for each morning and each afternoon that the Conclave continues.

Besides the Cardinal electors, the only others who will be present in the Sistine Chapel are the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations and Cardinal Prospero Grech, O.S.A., who will preach the second meditation provided for in No. 13 of the Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis” to the Cardinal electors.


A summary from VIS on this morning’s Vatican briefing:

Vatican City, 9 March 2013 (VIS) – “The first order of business of the eighth General Congregation, which met yesterday evening and in which 145 cardinals participated, was to vote on the date to begin the Conclave. Cardinal Dean Angelo Sodano, expressing the wishes of all and after having consulted with the Cardinal Carmelengo Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., regarding the preparations at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, proposed the date of Tuesday, 12 March. The overwhelming majority immediately voted in agreement,” reported Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office. “There was no difference of opinion between the cardinals and the percentage of votes in favour of to those against was around 10 to one. Moreover,” Fr. Lombardi added, “the full complement of Cardinal electors was already reached and it was no longer considered necessary to wait further, as they already had time to reflect on their decision.”

Fifteen cardinals intervened during the course of the Congregation and two newly arrived cardinals were sworn in, neither of which is a Cardinal elector: Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo, S.D.B., archbishop emeritus of Managua, Nicaragua, and Cardinal Gaudencio Borbon Rosales, archbishop emeritus of Manila, Philippines.

During the ninth General Congregation that met this morning, the cardinals spoke about moving into the Domus Sanctae Marthae, which will be their residence for the duration of the Conclave. “It was agreed by majority that the move will take place on Tuesday morning, beginning from 7:00am, that is, the same day that the Conclave begins. (This is a change from an earlier announcement saying the cardinals would move in on the eve of the conclave).

A “Pro eligendo Romano Pontifice” Mass will be celebrated by the Cardinal Dean at 10:00am that morning in St. Peter’s Square. Rooms were also assigned, by lot, Fr. Lombardi said.

“This morning 17 cardinals intervened, speaking on the same general themes that have been previously reported, including: expectations regarding the new Pope, activities of the Holy See and its Dicasteries, and improving the Curia. In total, there have been 133 interventions in the General Congregations and, keeping in mind those scheduled for Monday, that number will probably reach 150.”

At the end of the press conference, the schedule for the sessions of the Conclave was presented:

Tuesday 12 March:

* At 3:45pm, the cardinals will move from the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Pauline Chapel in the Apostolic Palace.

* At 4:30pm, the cardinals will process from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel and, after they have all taken the oath, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations will give the order “Extra omnes” for all those not taking part in the Conclave to leave the Sistine Chapel. The cardinals will listen to a meditation given by Cardinal Grech, concerning the grave duty incumbent on them and thus on the need to act with right intention for the good of the Universal Church, after which they will proceed to the first vote.

* At 7:00pm they will pray Vespers and, at 7:30pm, will return to the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Wednesday 13 March

* The cardinals will move from the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Pauline Chapel at 7:45am where, at 8:15am, they will celebrate Mass.

* At 9:30am they will enter the Sistine Chapel, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and proceed to the voting process.

* Around 12:00pm they will return to the Domus Sanctae Marthae and, after lunch there, will go back to the Sistine Chapel at 4:00pm where they will pray briefly and resume the voting procedure until 7:00pm.


This coming Monday, 11 March, all the auxiliary personnel needed to ensure the smooth operations of the Conclave will take the oath of secrecy and those images will be broadcast by Vatican Television.

Since there are two votes each morning and afternoon, Fr. Lombardi stated that the ‘fumata’ (smoke signalling the election or non-election of a pontiff) that is produced from the burning of the ballots from those two voting processes could be expected around 12:00pm, in the case of the morning, or 7:00pm, in the case of the evening, unless the first of the two votes produces an election. In such an instance, the “fumata” would obviously take place earlier – probably around 10.30am and 5.30pm, but these are only estimates. (Note that next week, because of DST changes in the U.S. but not in Italy this weekend, Rome time is 5 hours ahead of EST, not 6).

Photo: EP

The Director of the Holy See Press Office also recalled the procedure in the case that a pontiff is not elected in the first four days of voting. In such an instance the cardinals will take a pause on the fifth day in order to pray, speak freely among themselves, and listen to a brief exhortation given by the senior cardinal in the Order of Deacons. The scrutinies will proceed in a similar fashion—two days of voting with every third day taken to pause for prayer—until the 34th vote on the afternoon of the eleventh day. In such an event, No. 75 of the Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis” modified by Benedict XVI’s recent “Motu Proprio” would apply, which states: “If the balloting mentioned in Nos. 72, 73, and 74 of the aforementioned Constitution does not result in an election, one day shall be dedicated to prayer, reflection and dialogue; in the successive balloting, observing the order established in No. 74 of the same Constitution, only the two names which received the greatest number of votes in the previous scrutiny, will have passive voice. There can be no waiving of the requirement that, in these ballots too, for a valid election to take place there must be a clear majority of at least two thirds of the votes of the Cardinals present and voting. In these ballots the two names having passive voice do not have active voice.” That is, the two candidates with the greatest number of votes will be voted for and cannot themselves cast a vote.

Fr. Lombardi reported that the commission that, under the direction of the Camerlengo, is responsible for sealing the entrances to the areas of the Conclave and carrying out the other operations necessary for the safeguarding of the Conclave was established. It is led by the Cardinal Camerlengo and among its members are the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, the Commandant of the Swiss Guards, members of the Gendarmerie, and notaries.

Finally he reported that the Pope’s Fisherman’s Ring—which exists in two forms, the ring itself and as a stamp used to seal documents—as well as two stamps—a larger and a smaller one—and the master lead seal of the pontificate were all destroyed, the images scratched out in the form of a cross to render them useless. The next Pope’s ring will bear the same image of Peter casting his net but, naturally, will have the new pontiff’s name inscribed above the image.

It was also communicated that tomorrow, Sunday, 10 March, various cardinals will celebrate Mass at their titular churches, inviting the faithful to pray for the Church and for the election of the new pontiff.

An American Pope?


In this article which appears today in the National Catholic Register, I analyse whether the papal shoes would fit an American. Naturally, the Holy Spirit is the cardinals’ ultimate guide, but factors such as these Flag-Pins-USA-Vatican-Citywill play a role in their decision.


VATICAN CITY — There’s increasing chatter in Rome that an American cardinal could become the next pope, but would such a choice be prudent, given the nation’s superpower status?

Ever since the French Pope Clement V became a tool of the monarchy of France, then the world’s most powerful nation, and transferred the entire papacy to Avignon in 1309, the Church has been reluctant to elect a pope from a ruling superpower.

This conventional wisdom has become embedded in the Church’s thinking; even U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently argued against having an American pope on the grounds that it might present a “conflicting spiritual challenge.”

“A pope from a superpower would probably have a lot going against him when he’s trying to present a spiritual message to the rest of the world,” the archbishop of Washington told ABC News Feb. 27.

“The pope has to be able at times to speak a spiritual challenge, even to the United States,” he added. “So I’m not sure that it would be the wisest thing to have an American pope.”

Furthermore, some wonder whether an American pope would be able to keep a separate position from the United States government over such issues as relations with the Muslim world, China, Iran and the Holy Land. Would he truly be able to represent the interests of the Church in the realm of international affairs?

Many Catholics feel that the United States as a superpower already exerts more than enough worldly influence on the Church in the field of culture, politics and economics. An American as the successor of Peter, they say, risks simply magnifying that influence further.

Moreover, such observers feel a pope from across the Atlantic would bring plenty of baggage — most notably the extent of clerical sex abuse in the U.S. Church and the deficiencies of its bishops in addressing the issue prior to 2002 — as well as culture clashes with a Europe that leans even more towards socialism than does the Obama administration.

And the Roman Curia, despite concerted efforts by Blessed Pope John Paul II and to some extent Benedict XVI to internationalize the Vatican, remains largely Eurocentric and therefore resistant to a non-European leader who could introduce a completely different culture and ethic to centuries-old practices.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that only relatively recently, in 1984, did the Holy See establish diplomatic relations with the United States; and even now, it views the American Church as sometimes reflecting Protestant and Calvinistic tendencies.

Cardinals are also said to struggle with the perception that an American pope wouldn’t be sophisticated enough to lead the 2,000-year-old Church. The United States is still considered by some to be too young, both in its history and in its culture, and therefore unsuited to running such an ancient institution. The American Church, a few observers will point out, was still being formed by missionaries right up to the beginning of the last century.


The Case for an American

And yet many of these arguments against an American pope can in fact be turned on their head.

As differences between the Obama administration and the Church widen, so it becomes increasing unlikely there will be split loyalties and conflicting spiritual challenges between Church and state. On the contrary, as an increasingly secular state emerges in a countrythat  influences so much of the world, it can be reasonably argued that there is the need for a more vocal Church, one that would be helped by being led by an American pope who already has experience in standing firm in the face of aggressive U.S. secularism.

Also, the United States is, in the words of Cardinal Wuerl, “a grand and glorious and great country” that has retained many Christian values. It remains a country of faith, something that an American pope could help export, especially to an “old Europe” suffering from what John Paul II called a “silent apostasy.”

A U.S. supreme pontiff could also bring a number of other advantages, generated by a more modern style of governance that could inject greater efficiency into the Curia and finally reform its structure in a way no other pope has been able to do. An American pope would be better able, some argue, to root out some of the Vatican’s turf wars and replace dated management methods, which together have cramped the Church’s efforts to evangelize.

And as the regular briefings by American cardinals during this interregnum also indicated, an American pope would likely be someone well versed in handling the media. He’d probably come across as confident, enthusiastic, convey a sense of strength and purpose and thereby bring some much-needed media savvy to the Vatican.

A further and by no means minor advantage is that he would speak English, the modern world’s lingua franca, and so potentially would be able to improve the Holy See’s communications in an unprecedented way.

Moreover, if someone such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York were elected, he would bring much needed dynamism to the role — the “vigor of both body and mind,” which Benedict XVI “recognized he had lost and defined as necessary for his successor,” as veteran Vatican watcher Sandro Magister recently pointed out.

Since Benedict XVI’s abdication, which broke with a 600-year tradition in the Church, overcoming the “superpower conventional wisdom” suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched. And, of course, it wasn’t the first such long tradition to come to an end relatively recently — the last two popes have been anomalies, men of the Church who, for the first time in over 400 years, have hailed from beyond Italy.

That’s a reality not lost on Cardinal Dolan.

“With the election of John Paul, with the election of Benedict,” he told SiriusXM radio recently, “one wonders if the former boundaries seem not to have any more credibility.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

Read more:

Cardinals Gather in St. Peter’s to Pray for the Conclave


One by one the cardinals arrived in St. Peter’s basilica for this evening’s prayers for the conclave, braving a gale of strong winds and heavy rain that has been buffeting Rome all day.

A number of them chose to arrive on foot through the main entrance, just like ordinary members of the public, but any attempt to enter unnoticed would be thwarted as their scarlet fascia and zucchetti would attract passers-by and well-wishers.


Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, was one of those who came through the main entrance. Asked if he would comment on the conclave, he very graciously said he would have to decline as he and all his confreres have now been sworn to secrecy.

By 5pm, all the cardinals were seated – a dramatic image of a sea of scarlet in front of the cordoned-off Altar of the Cathedra in the apse of the basilica. Very symbolically, Bernini’s Baroque stained-glass window, with its central dove and rays of sun denoting the Holy Spirit, towered above them.

Around 500 faithful including a significant number of religious were allowed to join the cardinals in prayer, and stretched back to the baldacchino.

The celebration began with the recitation of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary in Italian and Latin, followed by Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. After 15 minutes or so of adoration, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the basilica, presided over a simple recitation of Vespers  in Latin. The rite concluded with Eucharistic Benediction.

No words were spoken; this was simply a chance for the cardinals and faithful present to recollect and pray for the upcoming conclave. And many found the ceremony deeply moving – an opportunity to join in prayer with the cardinal electors and the many faithful around the world during this momentous time for the Church. It also didn’t escape those present that the next Successor of Peter will most likely have been among those also praying for the best outcome of this conclave this evening, at the apse of the basilica, just a few yards away from St. Peter’s tomb.


At today’s daily Vatican press briefing, Fr. Federico Lombardi made the following points about the general congregations and interregnum:

no date for the conclave was decided upon during the fourth General Congregation his morning. Fr. Lombardi said it still wasn’t known when an announcement would be made but that the delay was due to a willingness not to rush the proceedings. However, the congregations will now be taking place in the morning and afternoon to “intensify” the discussions.

“The College has a great spirit of preparation that is serious, profound, and unhurried,” Fr. Lombardi said. “Perhaps that is why it still did not seem opportune to take a vote on the date of the Conclave, which a large part of the College could sense as something forced in the dynamic of reflection. It also needs to be kept in mind that some cardinals are still arriving and it would be a sign of respect for them to wait until the College is complete.”

* 153 cardinals were present, including 113 cardinal electors. Two electors were still absent: Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw (he arrived this evening) and Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Phạm Minh Mẫn or Thanh-Pho-Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, who arrives tomorrow.

* This morning 18 cardinals addressed the gathering during which the following themes were discussed: the Church in the world, the New Evangelization, the Holy See, its Dicasteries and relations with bishops. A third theme was a profile of expectations for the next pope in view of the good government of the Church. Fr. Lombardi said a clearer picture was “emerging” of the kind of expectations the cardinals have of the next pope.

* There have been 51 speeches since the beginning of the Congregations on Monday, but given the large number of cardinals wishing to address the gathering, a five minute time limit was established but is not strictly enforced.

* A question was raised concerning the cancellation this morning of scheduled press conferences with American cardinals after the general congregations. Fr. Lombardi observed that “the Congregations are not a synod or a congress in which we try to report the most information possible, but a path toward arriving at the decision of electing the Roman Pontiff. In this sense, the tradition of this path is one of reservation in order to safeguard the freedom of reflection on the part of each of the members of the College of Cardinals who has to make such an important decision. It does not surprise me, therefore, that along this path there were, at the beginning, moments of openness and communication and that afterwards, in harmony with the rest of the College, it has been established whether and how to communicate.”

About the same time Fr. Lombardi was making those comments, the U.S. Bishops Conference issued the following statement:

“U.S. cardinals are committed to transparency and have been pleased to share a process-related overview of their work with members of the media and with the public, in order to inform while ensuring the confidentiality of the General Congregations. Due to concerns over accounts being reported in the Italian press, which breached confidentiality, the College of Cardinals has agreed not to give interviews.”

(Sister Mary Ann Walsh, media relations director at the USCCB, shares her perspective on the decision here).

The American cardinals were the only ones offering briefings during the general congregations, but even though it gave them a chance to correct some of the misleading reports, they weren’t able to share much information once the congregations had begun.

Indeed some were surprised the briefings were taking place at all, given that each cardinal had sworn, on the first day of the general congregations, to “maintain rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff or those which, by their very nature, during the vacancy of the Apostolic See, call for the same secrecy.”

But the willingness to speak as freely as possible with the media did denote one thing: an American Pope would bring much needed media savvy to the See of Peter.

* Fr. Lombardi reported that Cardinal Dean Angelo Sodano wished a happy birthday to Cardinal Walter Kasper (who turned 80 yesterday), Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio (who turns 75 today), and Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval, C.SS.R., (who turns 77 tomorrow). Cardinal Kasper continues to be a Cardinal elector—he will be the oldest to cast his vote in this Conclave—because the Apostolic Constitution regulating the procedure for electing the pontiff establishes the age limit for cardinals entering the Conclave to be determined from the beginning of the period of the Sede Vacante.

*The Vatican also confirmed that “the Fisherman’s Ring has been scratched over,” that is, rendered unusable – a tradition going back to when the ring was used as papal seal.

Read more:

How One Venezuelan Cardinal Viewed Hugo Chávez


An interview I made back in 2007 with the late Venezuelan Cardinal Rosalio José Castillo Lara. The cardinal was unremitting in his criticisms of the hardline socialist who died yesterday aged 58. Cardinal Castillo once recommended an exorcism be carried out on the “Bolivarian Revolution” leader; Chávez called the cardinal  “a hypocrite, bandit and devil with a cassock.”

9 March 2007

esp_vatican_pope_chavez_sff_fulWhat is your opinion of the situation in Venezuela at present?

CARDINAL CASTILLO LARA: The situation in Venezuela is very particular and unique for the following reason: you have a president who intends to put people again through an experimental form of Communism, one which has completely failed in every country in which it has been tried – and that’s very difficult to understand. He, Chavez, is someone who can be defined as paranoid. He has a rigid aim: to free Latin America from the game of empire, from the empire of the United States. That has no sense because the United States doesn’t oppress anyone. Then there’s the fact that Venezuela has some of the greatest trade links with the United States. It sells oil to the United States and buys many goods from there. In this way, this gentleman has begun to orientate everything to his own aims.

How is he doing this?

The first thing he did was to turn the government into a dictatorial regime. There isn’t a democracy there. It does not exist. Why doesn’t democracy exist? Because all power is in the hands of the president who exercises this power in an arbitrary and despotic fashion. Now you may say he’s been re-elected. But no, it was a fraudulent re-election. The government has a body which is in charge of elections, the National Election Council. This institution has been made totally powerless, it’s neither one thing or the other. Instead, the institute is composed of five members of whom four are Chavisti, they belong to Chavez’s party. Only one was against him. The [electoral] fraud was gigantic because the electoral register, the list of who can vote, who has the right to vote, had to be published so the whole world could see who could vote three months before the election. It would have cleared up many things. Instead the government didn’t want to have it. So then, when there was this election, there were many voters who didn’t vote. Some voted several times and in different ways. So this president we have now is really a fraud. And what’s he doing? He’s wanting to eliminate private property because the sole owner of property has to be the government. In recent years, two thirds of factories, small and medium factories, have closed. He made them close.

He often says that he is a follower of Jesus, that he believes in Christian social justice.

No, no. Chavez is not Christian. He was baptised but he’s not a Catholic in that sense. He – his government – is founded on two things: hatred and lies. He began planting hatred in Venezuela by stirring up a class hatred that did not exist. Hatred of the rich, those who have a little more than you, he manufactured a need to hate them. This hatred is what dominates all his government. I give an example. There is a petroleum company, Pedevesa, that is one of the largest in the world. He expelled, sent away, almost twenty thousand of its workers, employees. Twenty thousand. He didn’t pay these twenty thousand what he should have paid them, what they call social security. He didn’t pay them. He didn’t even return to them the money that they had deposited as savings, money that was theirs. He even took away the houses they had bought.

Yet he says his wish is to help the poor, that his mission to help the poor.

No, he is with the people, those who beg from him, but he hasn’t given them steady work. He has produced a very serious increase in unemployment, very serious, and he gives them around $120 to keep them quiet, but he doesn’t give them employment. He only helps, exclusively, those who support him. Therefore, you could ask, how come he still has support? Because of force, because he is a dictator.

So you’re not optimistic about the future?

No, for the future I’m not optimistic because he [Chavez] can do whatever he wants and there isn’t the possibility for the people to free themselves democratically. Because if there are elections, he makes them fraudulent. So there isn’t the possibility. The only option is that if all the people, all of them, rebel. And this is possible; you can see, in Venezuela’s constitution, Article 350, that says the people of Venezuela will not recognize a government which does two things: It doesn’t function democratically, or that it violates fundamental human rights. This is understood in Venezuela. Therefore the people can legally rebel and they can do so when he begins to take away private property and employment. Then he will start on religion; he wants to remove religious education and replace it because he says education must be ideological.

But you wouldn’t support a coup?

No I don’t think it’s possible because the people are without arms. Instead the government has plenty of arms, because he dreams of a confrontation with the United States. He bought a lot of arms from Russia – 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles – not to defend justice for the people but to fight other movements who are against him.


One of the most bizarre press conferences I’ve been to in Rome was when Chavez spoke to reporters – or more like harangued them – at the Parco dei Principi Grand Hotel in Rome. He ranted for about two hours and for the first hour or so, his security officials wouldn’t let us leave.

Entire Church Invited to Pray for Conclave


The Vatican today invited the entire Church to pray with cardinals when they dedicate tomorrow afternoon to prayer and adoration in St. Peter’s basilica for the upcoming papal election. The prayers begin at 5pm Rome time (11a.m. EST).

According to Vatican Information Service:

“There was also a proposal, endorsed by the Particular Congregation, to dedicate tomorrow afternoon to prayer in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Cardinal Dean, Angelo Sodano, will lead the prayers. This initiative will also serve as an invitation to the entire Church to pray at this important moment. The ceremony is open to the public so any faithful who so desire may attend.”

At today’s press briefing on the conclave, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi also made the following points:

* The cardinals sent a telegram (pictured) to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI this morning. Signed by Cardinal Dean Sodano, it reads:

“To His Holiness, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Castel Gandolfo.

The Cardinal Fathers, gathered at the Vatican for the General Congregations in view of the next conclave, send you their devoted greetings and express their renewed gratitude for all your illustrious Petrine ministry and for your example of generous pastoral care for the good of the Church and of the world. With their gratitude they hope to represent the recognition of the entire Church for your tireless work in the vineyard of the Lord. In conclusion, the members of the College of Cardinals trust in your prayers for them, as well as for the whole Church.”



* No date has been fixed for the start of the conclave, and it’s not possible to guess when it might be announced. “It might be tomorrow, it might not be,” Fr. Lombardi said, adding that the cardinals don’t want to rush the vote but discuss the state of the Church before voting on the best person to lead it.

* Referring to this morning’s congregation, Fr. Lombardi said a total of 148 cardinals were present, including 110 of the 115 cardinal-electors. The remaining five are on their way. Fr. Lombardi said it’s not necessary for all cardinal electors to be present to decide the conclave date, but all need to have the opportunity to arrive in time.

* Yesterday evening, the second General Congregation of the College of Cardinals took place, during which Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., preacher of the Pontifical Household, gave the first of the meditations provided for by the Apostolic Constitution.

* The cardinals decided that, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Congregations will only be held in the morning.

* Topics that have been discussed include: activities of the Holy See and its relations with bishops throughout the world; Church renewal in light of Vatican Council II; the Church’s position and the need for the New Evangelization in today’s world with its diverse cultural environments.

* Fr. Lombardi said that the preparations for the Conclave have begun in the Sistine Chapel so it is now closed to visitors.

* He also presented the latest data on the media coverage of the events of the Holy See in these days: 4,432 temporarily accredited journalists have joined the 600 permanently accredited journalists. The more than 5,000 journalists represent 1,004 news outlets, 65 nations, and 24 languages.


The Vatican has put together this colorful online book of photographs, cataloguing Benedict XVI’s pontificate and some of his best teachings.

List of Papabili


conclave header

My latest list of papabili: 

Cardinal Angelo Scola 71

Archbishop of Milan, Italy

Son of a truck driver and proud of his humble roots, Cardinal Scola has long been the bookies’ favourite. His ability to remain in the top ranks of papabile, observers say, is a testament to his suitability. As an intellectual, he is of the same mind and theology as Benedict XVI and some believe him to be Benedict’s preferred successor. Scola, who has held two Sees – Venice and Milan – that have traditionally been stepping stones to the papacy, has striven to find ways to avoid a ‘clash of civilizations’ through founding the Oasis Foundation to bridge the gap between the West and Islam. The Italian cardinal has also been close to Communion and Liberation, but has sought to distance himself from the centre-right movement after reports linked it with a few Italian politicians involved in corruption scandals. Being Italian yet outside the Vatican, some see him as best equipped to reform the Curia.  But he is not the best communicator (his addresses can be long and overly intellectualised), his English is fluent but not always easy to understand, and he may be considered too old. It’s also said that an insufficient number of Italian cardinals are likely to rally around him.

Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer  63

Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil

Widely viewed as the strongest Latin American candidate, Cardinal Scherer appears – on paper at least – to have all the qualities needed to be the next Pope. Faithful to tradition but pragmatic, he is robustly pro-life, reputed to be a firm decision-maker, and as a Brazilian with German ancestry, he bridges the gap between Europe and the developing world. He also has both Curial and pastoral experience, having served as an official in the influential Congregation for Bishops (1994-2001) and, since 2007, archbishop of Sao Paolo – one of the Church’s largest and most challenging archdioceses. Benedict XVI is said to respect and admire him, and chose him to be one of the first members (and one of only two Latina Americans) of a new Vatican department for the “new evangelization” that seeks to bring the faith back to the increasingly secular West. As a non-Italian who can clearly govern, some see him as the ideal candidate for reforming the Roman Curia. But others argue that although personable, he lacks charisma, and remains too much of an unknown quantity. There are also doubts that the College of Cardinals are ready to appoint a Latin American cardinal, and they might prefer him to remain in Brazil where the Church faces a double threat from increasing secularism and Pentecostal sects that are drawing away the faithful.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68

Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops

Noted for his cheerful, kind and humble persona as well as uncompromising orthodoxy and deep spirituality, Cardinal Ouellet leads most papabile lists. He was a lone voice in the face of radical secularism as Archbishop of Quebec, but many Quebecers still respected him for his spiritual writings and personal qualities. Benedict appointed him head of the influential Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican in 2010 where he has made laudable appointments, but he has also had plenty of curial experience in other departments and so has many contacts in the worldwide Church. And yet despite his many qualities, Ouellet’s record in restoring the faith to Quebec was sketchy, and he was unable to stem the sharp decline of Church attendance there. Some also feel he may lack the steel to be Pope, and point to the fact that he can become over emotional at times, though not in a Boehner-esque way.  He also comes from a difficult family: one of his brothers pled guilty to abusing two teenage girls, while another is a lapsed Catholic. As one observer put it: “If he can’t evangelize his own family, what are his chances of evangelizing the rest of the world?”

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco 70

Archbishop of Genoa, Italy

A firm and loyal friend of Benedict XVI, Cardinal Bagnasco has emerged as a doughty yet softly spoken and deeply pastoral leader of the Church in Italy, and an ideal candidate to tackle increasing secularism. His meteoric rise is seen to be a testament to his abilities, and he has shown a steely resolve in confronting secularism, often launching stinging attacks on politicians in particular who try to legislate on issues going against the Church’s teaching. As head of Italy’s bishops, he railed against same-sex unions in 2007, a battle the Italian Church eventually won but which led to death threats against him and the presence of armed guards. He has also taken a similar firm line against euthanasia, as well as sexual abuse among clergy in Italy, saying a cover-up culture must be overcome. Bagnasco has also spoken out forcefully against Italy’s negative birth rate, warning it points to a “serious cultural catastrophe.” Politically, he has tried to steer a centrist position, but appeared to back Mario Monti in the recent election. Being Italian may also work against him when it comes to reforming the Curia, given accusations of some alleged complicity in Church appointments. Observers see Bagnasco as a possible compromise candidate should no leading cardinal secure a two thirds majority in early voting.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith 65

Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Hugely popular among those on the traditional and conservative wing of the Church, Cardinal Ranjith ticks many of boxes required to be Pope on account of his wide experience, orthodoxy and reputed holiness. Softly spoken but with proven administrative abilities, he has experience as a Vatican diplomat (although he’s not formally trained) in East Timor and Indonesia, and speaks 10 languages. Strongly loyal to Pope Benedict, many consider him the ideal candidate to continue the Pope’s legacy. As an Asian, he would also help move the Church’s emphasis away from its euro-centrism. Ranjith has served twice in the Curia: first at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples dealing with all the Church’s missions around the world, and then as number two in the Vatican’s department on liturgy. He also has the requisite diocesan experience having been made Archbishop of Colombo where he remains popular. But he was sent back to his homeland after allegedly clashing with some of his curial colleagues because of his traditional liturgical preferences (his earlier appointment as nuncio to East Timor and Indonesia is also said to have followed problems in the curia). Such claims are likely to make the cardinal-electors think twice about voting for him, especially given the divisions already existing in the Vatican’s upper ranks, but his strengths may eclipse the question marks.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi 70

President, Pontifical Council for Culture

A well-read, leading biblical scholar, Cardinal Ravasi has worked hard to raise the Church’s profile in the world of high culture, establishing Benedict XVI’s “Courtyard of the Gentiles” initiative aimed at engaging atheist intellectuals. Moreover, Benedict chose him to lead this year’s Vatican Lenten retreat meditations which drew generally good reviews (the Pope called them “brilliant”). Good with the media, he’s a well-known figure on Italian television and radio and considered one of the country’s foremost intellectuals. Although a Curial official, he is outside the infighting and so in a strong position to reform its internal practices. But despite being a skilled communicator and someone willing to seriously engage even popular culture in spreading the gospel, Ravasi speaks no English and has no pastoral experience of running a diocese. His only administrative job prior to coming to Rome was as a librarian. More seriously, among many traditionalist Catholics, Ravasi is considered heterodox with a few ideas at odds with Church teaching. Ravasi may be cerebral, but is he prayerful? He’s also said to have little support among the Italian hierarchy, and his position at the Council for Culture carries little weight in terms of influence. Still, if the electors decide the new pope needs to be a reformer who can competently carry forward Benedict XVI’s enthusiasm for the New Evangelization, Ravasi may well be viewed as the most promising candidate.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn 68

Archbishop of Vienna, Austria

A member of a prominent aristocratic Austrian family that produced two cardinals in the 18th and 19th centuries, Cardinal Schoenborn – a polyglot and Dominican scholar – is another long-time figure on papabile lists. But his star has waned in recent years as his judgement has been questioned on a number of issues: some criticise him for not being firmer with dissenting priests in Austria while his others say he likes to take action on matters best ignored. Although he is a member of several Vatican Congregations and took a leading role in the Church’s new Catechism in the nineties, he has no real Curial experience. But past statements show he clearly supports reforming it: in 2009, he inadvertently publicly criticised Cardinal Angelo Sodano, saying he had blocked an investigation into Schoenborn’s predecessor who had been accused of molesting seminarians (Sodano is regarded by some Vatican observers as being one force behind the curial infighting in recent years). Schoenborn’s skills with the media, his leading role in the new evangelization, and his extensive experience of defending the Church in the face of radical secularism in Austria run in his favor, but his closeness to Benedict (he was one of his former students) may be a disadvantage while questions over his judgement, and the low possibility of another German-speaking Pope, go against him.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri 69

Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches

Born in Argentina to Italian immigrant parents, Cardinal Sandri appears to have all the necessary qualifications: papal diplomat, linguist, long curial experience at the highest levels. An affable figure adept at administration (under John Paul II he was in charge of the day-to-day running of the Holy See), Sandri’s Italian extraction means he could also bridge the gap between Europe, the Curia and the developing world. But he lacks pastoral experience and has never been a diocesan bishop. And although he would probably be able to reform the Curia to make it more efficient, it’s doubtful he would be able to root out the internal divisions among its highest officials, having been too closely associated with many of them. Other associations also weaken his chances: he was present during the poor governance of the Curia under John Paul II, and has been associated with sex and financial corruption scandals, the latter related to Argentina’s economic collapse in the early 2000s. Sources also say he was promoted to the Congregation for Oriental Churches to remove him from the Secretariat of State. Others have criticized him for announcing John Paul II’s death to the world, disregarding John Paul II’s own norms that stipulated the task should be left to the Cardinal Vicar of Rome.  In short, although he has the qualifications, many view Sandri as having too much baggage.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan 63

Archbishop of New York, USA

Although it’s said a Pope cannot come from a superpower, the relative decline in US global influence and clashes between the Obama administration and the Church make an American president more feasible. Cardinal Dolan’s supporters say he offers three key skills needed to be the next Pope: the ability to govern, unify the Church and effectively deal with the media. Many highlight his remarkable achievement in uniting the US Church in recent years and, given that is a Pope’s primary task, that may win him some crucial support. He is also lauded for his conservatism while at the same time, as head of U.S. bishops, he has managed to avoid partisan politics and steered the American Church towards the center ground. But his linguistic abilities are not the best, he’s also a Curia outsider, even though he knows it quite well through being a seminary rector in Rome. Some also question his administrative skills and he also is said to be too willing to compromise on some crucial issues in a bid to win support for the Church down the line (some cite same-sex marriage legislation in New York as an example).  His affable nature and good humour could win many over to the faith, his supporters say, but others argue he’s too jovial and lacking sufficient gravitas to be taken seriously as Pope.

Cardinal Luis Tagle 55

Archbishop of Manila, Philippines

A gifted communicator renowned for his personal humility, simplicity and empathy for the poor, Cardinal Tagle – nicknamed “Chito” – is seen as one of the Church’s rising stars destined for even higher office. A respected scholar who is half Chinese, he is likely to appeal to the cardinal-electors for being a leading figure in Asia where the Church is growing fast, and for having the potential to reach out to China where relations with the Holy See remain a priority. He is staunchly pro-life, but his close connections with the Bologna School, a modernist body in the Church veering to the left, is a cause for concern and could exacerbate internal divisions. His youth and the fact that he was only appointed cardinal last November also go against him. If he were elected, he could conceivably be Pope for another thirty years. Although he has experience of running one of the world’s largest dioceses, he has no experience of the curia apart from participation in synods and being a member of some Vatican dicasteries. Some also argue that his genteel nature is the opposite of what is required if the Vatican is to be reformed and the Church is to be effectively governed. The consensus is that although Tagle could well be papal material in terms of intellect and personal holiness, this election would be too soon. His best chance, they say, will probably be during the election that follows.


The Pope as Diplomat


My take on Benedict XVI’s legacy in foreign relations in the journal Foreign Affairs.


February 27, 2013

faAs Pope Benedict XVI abdicates the papacy, retiring to a life of prayer and study, he leaves behind an admirable, if somewhat chequered, record in international relations.

His influence in foreign affairs — like that of all popes — has been considerable. As a truly global body with over a billion members, the world’s oldest diplomatic service, and a worldwide network of humanitarian aid organizations, the Catholic Church is arguably able to frame foreign policy in a way no other institution can.

That was perhaps most clearly evident during Pope John Paul II’s tenure, when the Vatican sided with the West in its struggle to topple Soviet communism. But the pope and the Holy See are not foreign policymakers as such — they can only guide world powers toward a particular vision of justice and peace.

To understand Benedict XVI’s approach to foreign affairs, it’s important to note his background as a professor. More at home with books than with the diplomatic corps (many of his recent predecessors had been trained statesmen), he primarily sought to bring the teachings of the Catholic Church to the world stage, rather than dwell on practicalities. It was an approach that in many ways proved to be an advantage: Unconstrained by the protocols of diplomacy, he could more forthrightly proclaim the Christian message to a global audience — and it bore fruit, although not without a cost.

Pentin_PopeAsDiplo_411His pronouncements, which often went right to the core of an issue, were regularly regarded as diplomatic gaffes. The most famous example occurred during his 2006 lectio magistralis at the University of Regensburg. In his speech, Benedict XVI memorably quoted a medieval emperor who implied that Muhammad had only spread Islam through violence. Although the lecture was primarily meant to show that contemporary militant Western liberalism and contemporary militant Islam share the same erroneous approach to truth, his quotation set off a firestorm, testing the Holy See’s relations with Islam-majority nations and forcing the pope to issue an apology for the reaction it caused.

And yet his comments struck a chord with many who began to debate in their own minds the problem of violence among certain Islamic groups, even if they were unwilling to articulate the issue publicly. His comments initiated deeper reflection among Muslim scholars on what it means to love God and love one’s neighbour, and they gave urgency to an ongoing Catholic-Muslim dialogue: No longer was it about mere niceties but more about genuine encounter. Specifically, it led Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to make an historic visit to the Vatican in 2007 and launch his own foundation aimed at improving interreligious understanding last year.

At the same time, Benedict worked hard to help foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Although he supported the recent UN General Assembly vote recognizing the state of Palestine, he was simultaneously able to improve relations between the Church and Israel by patiently persevering with bilateral discussions on settling the Fundamental Agreement — an incomplete 1993 accord that formed the basis of Holy See–Israel diplomatic relations — and by visiting the Holy Land in 2009. Israeli President Shimon Peres recently described Vatican-Israeli relations as “the best they have ever been.” Israeli and Jewish leaders would frequently remark that it was easier to deal with Benedict because “you knew where you stood with him.”

Under Benedict’s watch, the Holy See also established full diplomatic relations with Russia, Botswana, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Montenegro, and most recently, South Sudan — bringing the total of countries with formal ties to the Vatican to 180.

That is not to say that the Pope was able to accomplish all of his core goals — namely, to establish formal diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Saudi Arabia, China, and Vietnam.

Apart from the visit by Abdullah, there has been little progress in achieving religious freedom in the Arab kingdom, where churches are forbidden and priests must minister in secret, although the king has lightened the hand of the country’s dreaded religious police.

In China, the pope tried hard to improve the lives of Catholics. (Chinese Catholics loyal to Rome are forced to worship underground, and only the state church, the Patriotic Association, is officially recognized.) The pope, who made clear his desire to visit the communist nation, took the unusual step of writing a letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007 in which he urged Church unity and suggested ways to achieve it. Although the statement was received with enthusiasm by the nation’s faithful, it caused embarrassment to the Chinese authorities. Nearly six years on, diplomatic relations are little closer to being restored. Chinese Catholics loyal to Rome are still imprisoned and persecuted, and the Patriotic Church continues to consecrate “bishops” without Rome’s permission.

In Vietnam, where Catholics have long been persecuted by the communist regime, the pope has had more success. The Holy See recognized that the regime was amenable to reform, and thanks to extensive diplomatic efforts by the Holy See and the establishment of a joint working group in 2007, the communist nation has been more cooperative. It has allowed the Church to appoint bishops, and in 2011 the Vatican appointed its first envoy to the country — a step toward establishing full diplomatic relations.

Such successes, however, have not prevented criticisms of Holy See diplomacy, which, some say, has suffered in recent years. A number of Rome diplomats believe the Vatican is not as “focused” as it was just ten years ago and complain about poor lines of communication. Due to poor governance at the Vatican, they argue, the Church fails to transmit a unified international agenda. That is why, they say, many perceive the Catholic Church to be losing influence. “Either the pope is unaware of this and cannot get a hold of it, or he is aware and doesn’t care — and both are unacceptable,” a senior diplomat in Rome told me a couple of years ago.

And yet on a personal level, Benedict would consistently look for opportunities to voice his concerns on the international scene, always reminding a country’s citizens to make space for God and resist a growing tide of secularism. He surprised many by traveling far more than people expected, in the end making 24 trips outside Italy, including visits to Cameroon, the Holy Land, Lebanon, Turkey, the United States, and the United Kingdom. He viewed each papal trip as a pilgrimage, an opportunity to proclaim the faith and bolster the local churches. In turn, he strengthened relations between those countries and the Holy See.

That is just one approach to foreign relations that John Paul II and Benedict XVI held in common. “The two pontificates were marked by a striking continuity,” says George Weigel, a papal biographer, and the author of Evangelical Catholicism. “Both men had an acute sense of the discontents of twenty-first-century democracy and tried hard to shore up its crumbling moral-cultural foundations.”

According to Weigel, Benedict’s four September addresses — the speeches he delivered in Regensburg, Germany; Paris; New York; and Berlin — “rank with John Paul II’s two UN addresses as among the most important papal statements on contemporary world affairs.”

In light of the pope’s decision to step down, he clearly was aware of perceptions that the Church was drifting and did care enough to renounce the papacy and entrust it to someone younger and more able to govern. Besides, more than any particular diplomatic triumph, Benedict’s real legacy will be that he never missed an opportunity to teach the world lessons on how to achieve peace — and he did so with startling simplicity and clarity.

“Peace,” he told diplomats earlier this year, “is not simply the fruit of human effort but a participation in the very love of God. It is precisely man’s forgetfulness of God, and his failure to give him glory, which gives rise to violence.”

In the world of international diplomacy, it is teachings such as these that make the difference.

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