April 15, 2005


This week we feature two editorials about the election of a new pope.

It's about filling the shoes of the fisherman

At one point in the nearly nonstop television coverage of the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II, one commentator wondered if the Church’s cardinals would be able to find anyone who would “fill Pope John Paul’s shoes.”

Fortunately for the cardinals ­meeting in conclave beginning on April 18, their task is not to find someone to fill the shoes of the late pope.

The task of the cardinals—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—is to identify and elect someone who will fill the shoes of the Fisherman. And that is a very different matter.


— William R. Bruns


The next pope

We are not going to be so foolish as to predict who will be the next pope, although we’re sure that others will.

There’s an old saying that “He who goes into a conclave as pope comes out a cardinal.” In other words, the cardinal most people think will be elected pope usually is not.

That, though, has not always been true. Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was clearly the favorite in 1939 and he was elected Pope Pius XII, and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini was the favorite in 1963 and he was elected Pope Paul VI.

This time, though, there does not appear to be any favorite, although Catholics certainly have their preferences. With 117 cardinals eligible to vote for the next pope, from so many countries, the conclave could take some time.

There was a time when Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini appeared to be the favorite, but he is now being counted out because he has retired as Archbishop of Milan and because he is 78 years old. We believe that he’s still a possibility because the next pope almost certainly will not be a young man as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was when he was elected at 58.

Pope John XXIII was 77 when he was elected, the same age as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who is another possibility.

There’s the story that, back in 1903 when the cardinals met to elect a successor to Pope Leo XIII, whose pontificate was 25 years, one of the cardinals said, “We elected a Holy Father, not an Eternal Father.”

Historically, the cardinals have favored older popes so chances are that the next pope will be in his 70s.

If that is true, it would lessen the possibility for the election of several cardinals sometimes mentioned as possible successors: Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, 60; Oscar Andres Rodriquez Maradiaga of Honduras, 62; and Angelo Scola of Venice, 63.

The first thing that the cardinals must do is discuss the problems that the next pope must face so they can determine what qualities he must ­possess.

We believe that the most serious problem for the Church now is the low number of Catholics in Western Europe who practice their faith. If the cardinals also perceive this, they might look to a European cardinal.

Several good possibilities come to mind: Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels; Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who served in the Congregation for Bishops for the last five years; and Italian Cardinal Dionigi Tattamanzi, Archbishop of Milan. All three are 71 years old.

For some cardinals, the top issue in the Church will surely be a greater collegiality, less power for the Roman Curia and more for bishops.

Cardinal Danneels called collegiality “at the top of the agenda” during a consistory of cardinals in 2001. The other cardinal most noted for wanting decentralization is Walter Kasper of Germany, 72. He and Cardinal Ratzinger exchanged articles in various journals, with Ratzinger arguing for the priority of the universal Church and Kasper arguing the equality of local Churches.

Another important issue certainly is ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. Cardinal Kasper, as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has been in the forefront of efforts to improve relations with other religions.

The tremendous growth of Catholicism in the Third World and the issues of poverty and justice could give us a pope from Africa or Latin America. If so, it almost certainly will be Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, 72, who has spent more than 20 years in Rome. If any cardinal from Latin America were to be elected, it would probably be Claudio Hummes of Brazil, 70. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world.

Other issues that will face the next pope will be the shortage of priests in Europe and the Americas; the role of the laity, including laywomen, in the governance of the Church; and the life issues—abortion, euthanasia, bioethics and capital punishment—that Pope John Paul faced. The cardinals will have to discern which of them can best deal with those issues.

— John F. Fink  

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