New York Times
April 10, 2005
ROME, April 9 - The Roman Catholic Cardinals will take an oath of secrecy when they enter the conclave to elect the next pope, but in the week since John Paul II's death many have been publicly dropping hints about what kind of man the church now needs.
The enormous outpouring of affection for John Paul has clearly had an impact on their thinking. Many of the prelates said in noticeably similar language that while the next pope may have a very different style than John Paul, he must above all be an effective communicator of the faith who can sustain the grass-roots enthusiasm, especially among youth, that John Paul generated.
With all but 3 of the 117 cardinal electors selected by John Paul, it is highly unlikely that the new pope will depart from his conservatism on contraception, divorce, women as priests or the range of what the church considers to be "sanctity of life" issues, from stem cell research to abortion and euthanasia.
Before the pope's death, many cardinals and commentators said a decisive factor could be geography - whether the next pope should come from Europe, where the church is shrinking, or from Latin America, Africa or parts of Asia, where the church is experiencing rapid growth.
But since the pope's death, the cardinals have said they are looking for someone who can project universal appeal with a personal humility and pastoral presence that embodies the message of the gospel, as they say John Paul did. It is not, many cardinals said in interviews, that they must choose a great orator.
"He doesn't have to be John Paul II and have the same fingerprints," said Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, formerly the archbishop of Denver and now a high-ranking Vatican official. "He just has to be his authentic self," Cardinal Stafford added. "And if they see he's authentic, that he's honest and they will see that that's all they need. He will lead them to Christ, and that's all that's necessary."
Cardinal Stafford and others spoke before Saturday, when the Vatican spokesman, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, announced that the cardinals had decided unanimously at their daily meeting "to avoid interviews and contact with the media," whose members were "invited to abstain" from seeking out comment.
"The cardinals have begun a period of more intense silence and prayer in the face of the conclave," he said. The conclave begins on April 18. Two cardinals cannot attend for health reasons, bringing the total count of electors to 115, the Vatican said Saturday.
The men who will elect one of their own to be the leader of a church of more than a billion people are the most ethnically and geographically diverse college of cardinals in history, thanks to the effort by John Paul to increase the number of non-Italians. Twenty-one come from Latin America, one of the world's fastest-growing Catholic zones, giving it one more than the traditional power, Italy. The United States and Canada have 14; Africa and Asia each has 11; Europe, where in some countries the church is hemorrhaging the faithful, has 58. The youngest is 52 years old; the oldest turns 80 in June.
They fall into two groups: those who work in the Vatican curia, carrying out the business of the church, and those who serve as archbishops, tending to Catholics on the local level.
Aside from age and geography, they also have different priorities for the next pope to emphasize as he carries out his public ministry.
One is the need to continue forging closer ties with other religions and other Christian denominations. Many cardinals emphasized last week the need for increased dialogue with Muslim leaders. "You don't want a clash of religions," said Cardinal Avery Dulles, a theology professor at Fordham University and a nonvoter. He identified ecumenism as one of two priorities for the next pope along with pushing forward with John Paul's effort to evangelize in the West.
Several cardinals have indicated a strong desire for someone with the pastoral qualities of cardinals who are also archbishops.
"I would hope his focus would be on local communities of faith," Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York said. "The parish is the central unit that must be served."
More than at any past conclave - the closed door meeting in the Sistine Chapel where the cardinals will vote - this one has an unusually large number of "papabili," the Italian word to describe those with pope potential.
The cardinals are loath to mention names, but from the comments of many, the field seems to be wide open.
But by describing the qualities they desire, educated guesses can be made about serious contenders, always with the often-repeated caveat about conclaves, "go in a pope, come out a cardinal."
One man who fits many of the current criteria is Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, 71, the archbishop of Milan. He reminds many Italian Catholics of an earlier much-beloved pope, John XXIII, with his plump appearance and his warmth. He is a son of the working class, and spoke in support of antiglobalization protesters in 2001 at the meeting of major industrialized nations in Genoa, where he told the thousands of demonstrators, "One African child sick with AIDS counts more than the entire universe."
He is also a conservative intellectual, close to Opus Dei, who is said to have helped John Paul write several key encyclicals. He has published a book on bioethics, an expertise that would be crucial for the next pope.
Another whose name is often mentioned is Claudio Hummes, the archbishop of São Paulo who speaks five languages and looks much younger than his 70 years. Brazil has the largest number of Catholics of any country, but the church is facing a serious challenge from the Protestant evangelical movement. As a bishop early on, he opposed Brazil's military government and backed striking workers. Since then, he has grown more conservative and once chastised a priest for suggesting that condoms should be used to fight AIDS.
Even before the conclave, candidacies will be pushed by what are known among Vatican watchers as Grand Electors - influential cardinals who can sway votes or at the least are looked to for guidance. They tend to be prominent members of Vatican congregations where they meet other cardinals, or frequent travelers, or men who by sheer force of intellect and personality are given weight. Some of them are even papabili themselves.
The issues on the minds of Catholics who would like to see their church liberalize its position on contraception, divorce or women priests are not under discussion, the cardinals said in interviews. This does not preclude the possibility that the next pope could eventually lead the church to adopt some new interpretation on church traditions, but where the issue is considered a matter of doctrine it is highly unlikely to change.
For instance, the church's ban on artificial contraception was reinforced by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Humanae Vitae.
A reporter asked Cardinal Francis George of Chicago in a news conference last week whether the church would consider approving the use of condoms to prevent AIDS in places like Africa.
"Your solution is to exterminate the poor?" he said, referring to the births that contraception would prevent. "The doctrine of the church isn't going to change, and so you work with it as best as you can."
Despite the growing consensus that they need a communicator, there is always a chance that other factors will significantly sway the cardinals' choice.
They may opt for an older interim figure, someone who would help the church pause for breath in the aftermath of one of history's longest and most eventful papacies. A candidate for that role would be Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who worked closely with John Paul for 24 years as the chief overseer of church theology and is deeply respected for his learning and decisiveness. He is also the dean of the cardinals, effectively their chairman and guiding force, and is one of only three cardinal electors who have ever attended a conclave.
But age may hurt. Cardinal Ratzinger turns 78 on Saturday. "This is a very strong personality, of great intelligence, faith and openness," Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski told Reuters. "The problem is his advanced age."
Perhaps a young, vigorous man would be attractive, after so many years of the world seeing an increasingly ailing John Paul.
The Viennese archbishop, Christoph Schönborn, 60, fits that bill. He is the fourth youngest of the cardinals, widely respected for being learned and articulate.
The scion of an aristocratic family with numerous clerical members over the centuries, Cardinal Schönborn is well-thought of for how he handled the sex scandals that shamed his predecessor. But some fault him for showing coldness in handling his staff and for reacting poorly to a dispute with another Austrian bishop. He belongs to the Dominican religious order.
Then there is region: should he come from a developing country? Perhaps, this line of reasoning goes, the timing would be perfect for a pope to address poverty, just as the cold war demanded a Karol Wojtyla.
"I believe the Holy Spirit will give us the pope we need at this time, like he did 26 years ago, when John Paul II was elected," Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington said.
Francis Arinze, 72, of Nigeria, who is also heavily involved in relations with Muslims, is a perennial favorite.
Cardinal Arinze has been a Vatican official for 20 years, and is head of the department regulating worship and the sacramental practice. He converted to Catholicism at the age of 9. While his spiritual credentials are strong, critics have said he lacks imagination. His language can be strong. A year ago he said that a Roman Catholic politician who supports abortion "is not fit" to receive communion, and he has criticized homosexuality as having "mocked" the family.
Perhaps none of this matters, some cardinals suggested, returning to the charisma issue.
If they ever needed proof of the power of a single figure to inspire Catholics, particularly young ones, they had it last week. The image of the crowds that came to mourn John Paul - an estimated 1.4 million filed by the pope's body among the roughly three million who descended on Rome - is prompting the cardinals to wonder how to sustain and deepen that enthusiasm and even translate it into a reinvigorated church.
"He has to be able to communicate with rich, young people in countries like the United States and France," said Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of France. "Then he needs to be able to relate to the poor when he goes to places like Brazil or Morocco or Burkina Faso. He has to be a person who can explain the Gospels to every type of audience.
"He has to really love his flock; he has to understand their sufferings, their difficulties," he said.
"John Paul II was that kind of pope."