Europe, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines | Analysis

RELIGION: Thoughts Turn to the ‘Pope-Ables’

Analysis by Hilmi Toros

ISTANBUL, Mar 7 2005 (IPS) - With the 84-year-old Pope John Paul II barely able to move freely or speak coherently, attention has shifted to how long his 26-year reign, the fourth longest in history so far, could last. And, consequently, to his successor among the ‘papabili’ (‘pope-ables’)..

There is a global outpouring of affection for the once-again hospitalised pontiff who has overcome an assassination attempt and numerous surgeries, and who has been coping with the debilitating effects of advancing Parkinson’s disease.

Regardless of the gravity of his health, Pope John Paul II is unlikely to give up and retire. He considers it his duty to carry his mission as long as he lives, Peggy Polk, analyst of Vatican affairs for three decades told IPS, adding: "We may wish him a long life, but there is no doubt that his reign is close to an end."

Hence the emergence of the inevitable phenomenon of papabili that has been a natural pastime whenever a pope is old or ill, in this case both.

Some previous predictions have been on and off target. The selection of Cardinal Karol Josef Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow (in Poland) as Pope on a balmy Rome autumn evening Oct. 16, 1978, was a surprise. He was the first non-Italian since the Dutch Adrian VI in 1522.

So who next, whenever the time comes? Another foreigner, considering the Roman Catholic Church’s new vision of universality? Or back to an Italian? Polk says the next pope, after the long reign of a non-Italian, could very well be an aged Italian.

Pope John Paul II has not and cannot designate a successor. If pontiffs have their favourites, they abstain from naming them publicly. But in the past some have discreetly given a push to an appointment. Pope John XXIII made Giovanni Battista Montini the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan to give him diocese experience to buttress his credentials at the Curia (the Vatican administration). Montini succeeded him in 1963 and reigned 15 years as Pope Paul VI.

This time, Vatican observers say the choice will be primarily whether the next pontiff is a foreigner or Italian, not necessarily whether he is conservative or liberal. The eligible voters in the College of Cardinals, numbering 135 under the age of 80, have a conservative hue. They were mostly appointed by John Paul II bent on halting or rolling back the reforms of his predecessors.

Another question is whether he will be young, as Cardinal Cardinal Wojtyla was at 58 allowing a long reign, or an older one for interim rule, as in the case of Cardinal Angelo Roncalli selected at age 80 in 1958. He had a four-year rule as Pope John XXIII.

The names of the papabili now come from the ‘Vaticanisti’ – a small and prestigious group of journalists permanently covering the Vatican and often in touch with the thinking of the hierarchy of the central administration. As they report, they may also shape opinion within the Vatican.

This time, they offer an array of choices. It is pointed out that while the Holy Spirit should be the main guiding star of electors, discreet disclosures from previous conclaves mention hard bargaining among cardinals and block-voting by the pope-makers.

One consideration at present is that Latin America may be due for papacy, says Polk. The southern hemisphere holds 40 percent of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics, and 27 voting cardinals.

The Latin American list is topped by Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa in Honduras. It also includes cardinals Dario Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia, Brazilian Claudio Hummes, Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico, Argentine Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Cuban Jaime Lucas Ortega.

Another possibility is a pope from Africa. Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, a convert at the age of nine from the Ibo tribe and judged a likeable conservative, stands tall. He is president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

If elected he would be the first black pope since St. Gelasius I in 492, who is listed in records as being from "nation Afer", or of African stock, but also "Romanus natus" – of Roman birth.

Europe cannot be counted out. Vaticanisti mention Godfried Daneels of Belgium, Jean-Marie Lustiger of France, Christoph Sch’nborn of Austria and German Joseph Ratzinger, who lacks recent diocese experience but has been head of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the past 23 years.

The numbers and influence of Italian cardinals have steadily dwindled in the globalisation of the electoral college, but they have formidable papabili.

Among them Cardinal Diogeni Tettamanzi, now Archbishop of the big diocese of Milan after heading Genoa tops the papabili list. Irish bookmaker Paddy Rower ranks Cardinal Tettamanzi 5 to 2 ahead of Arinze (1:3) and Cuban Jaime Lucas Ortega Alamino (2:11).

Tettamanzi has conservative credentials, as does Cardinal Giacomo Bifi, the Archbishop of Bologna. Vaticanisti say other Italian papabili include Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice, the see of two of last four popes before their election.

That speculation on papabili is risky was in evidence in 1978 when Vatican observers recall Cardinal Sergio Pignedoli considered himself such shoe-in that he had a papal costume tailored before the conclave. He emerged as he entered, a cardinal.

The next pope will not be a woman since priesthood is denied to women. Yet fable has it that there was one in the Dark Ages around 1100 – an English woman named Johanna – who made it to the top masquerading as man. She is ‘Popess Joan’ in some historical references.

Her gender is said to have been revealed when she gave birth while horseriding. She is said to have been stoned to death at a site in Rome that popes since have shunned. She gave birth to a tradition for some time where the Pope-elect was examined first to make sure he is male.

Republish | | Print |