Tribute

THE MEN WHO WOULD BE POPE

There’s no clear favourite, but all signs point to another moral conservative

CHARLIE GILLIS April 11 2005
Tribute

THE MEN WHO WOULD BE POPE

There’s no clear favourite, but all signs point to another moral conservative

CHARLIE GILLIS April 11 2005

THE MEN WHO WOULD BE POPE

There’s no clear favourite, but all signs point to another moral conservative

ONE OF POPE JOHN PAUL II’s closest and most-feared allies Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, is prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: the modern head of the Inquisition, responsible for cracking down on clerics who stray from Rome’s teachings. So when the German prelate unapologetically remarked in 1985 that the Church is “not democratic,” the ripples went wide. More than an argument, it was a gift to

defenders of the Vatican’s most controversial doctrines. With one succinct phrase, Ratzinger deflected all demands that the Church bend to public will on issues like birth control, priestly celibacy and ordaining women. Public opinion was irrelevant, conservatives argued. So why sink into divisive, emotional debates if the Roman

Catholic Church is not a democracy?

Now, Ratzinger’s maxim faces its greatest test. While conventional wisdom suggests the next pontiff will be a moral conservative along the lines of John Paul himself, the new bishop of Rome will face enormous pressure on

the Church to revise its teachings on social issues. He will also face a flock increasingly imbued by the democratic spirit—Ratzinger’s dismissal notwithstanding. A comprehensive poll completed in 1996 found that fully 73 per cent of respondents across six Western countries want the next pope to emphasize the challenges facing ordinary people, while a clear majority voiced support for such democratic reforms as elected bishops, a greater voice for lay advisers, and more power to local bishops.

Is there an obvious flag-bearer

for these values? The short answer, say Vatican watchers, is no. “The bottled up desire [for reform] might be out there,” said Rev. Andrew Greeley, a liberal-minded cleric and a sociologist at the University of Arizona. “But I’m not sure it’s in the Sacred College of Cardinals.” The reason for this is clear: of the 117 cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave to choose a new pontiff, fully 114 were appointed by John Paul himself. Many of them share his preference for top-down decision-making, and the result is a slate of potential candidates that makes liberal Catholics grimace. Of the frontrunners named in recent press reports, only Godfried Cardinal Danneels, a 71-year-old Belgian who has argued in favour of ordaining women, strikes Greeley as capable of building an independent-minded coalition to take the Church in a new direction. “It’s not,” he laments, “a very distinguished Sacred College just now.” There may be greater will for change, however, among the candidates from the Third World, where nearly two-thirds of the Church’s membership now reside. John L. Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the U.S.-based National Catholic Reporter, has named three cardinals, Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, 62, of Honduras, Claudio Hummes, 70, of Brazil, and Juan Sandoval Iñiguez, 72, of Mexico, as candidates whose election could fulfill that desire. None of the three is disposed to a broad re-examination of Church doctrine on issues that resonate in North America and Europe, such as abortion, birth control and homosexual rights. But all have expressed willingness to accommodate debate, by loosening the Church’s highly centralized decision-making structure, or easing its strong response to dissent. “This pontificate has been marked by a very aggressive police effort to crack down on dissent from its teachings,” says Allen, author of Conclave: The Politics, Personalities and Process of the Next Papal Election. “That’s where it’s realistic to think there might be a change under a future pontificate.”

Of course, not all candidates from the developing world share the progressiveness of Maradiaga, Hummes and Iñiguez. Colombia’s Dario Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, for one, has tremendous charisma: he once appeared dressed as a milkman on the doorstep of cocaine baron Pablo Escobar, demanding the cartel leader repent for his sins. But the 75-year-old Castrillón also carries a reputation as a doctrinal traditionalist who dreads the corruptive influence of the secular world. His appeal may be strongest among John Paul’s allies, who lament the Church’s waning influence in Europe, and among the more conservative cardinals from Third World countries, where churchgoers care least about democratic reform.

That leaves a handful of papabili (“popeables”) from around the globe with varying inclination to reform. Francis Cardinal Arinze, 72, of Nigeria, is regarded as a conservative unlikely to brook significant doctrinal change. Camillo Cardinal Ruini, the current vicar of Rome who would return the Vatican to its Italian roots, is

THE CHURCH win

be pressured to liberalize its teachings on such social issues as birth control and ordaining women

something of an enigma: a long-time confidant of John Paul, the 75-year-old is often described as a conservative, yet has advocated decentralization of Church power to bishops. Other possible contenders are Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, 60, the archbishop of Vienna, and Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi, 71, the archbishop of Milan.

Can a liberal-minded candidate become pope? Not if you believe critics who have spent the past decade decrying a growing conservatism and insularity in the Catholic Church. But it’s worth remembering that Karol Wojtyla was himself a long shot going into the conclave of 1978—a devout, artistic young Pole seeking an office typically held by aging, wily Italians. It goes to show that, from the time the doors of the conclave chamber close, to the moment white smoke appears above the Sistine Chapel signifying a decision, the outcome is in the air. CHARLIE GILLIS