As 115 cardinals gather Tuesday to elect the next Pope, they will be confronted with the most profoundly asked question among 1.5 billion Catholics worldwide: Will the secret conclave elect a non-European for the first time since St. Peter founded the Church in Rome, the seat of the Roman Empire?
The conclave heightens speculations over the prospects of a Filipino prelate to be a “dark horse” of being the first Asian Pope.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, a Swiss, head of the Vatican department that deals with Christian unity and relations with Jews, heightened the speculations with the statement, in an interview with Reuters: “The challenges of the Church in the world are very different on different continents: in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America. The question is where will the challenges be greater, on which continent, should it be a Pope for, above all, Latin America, for Africa… I can imagine taking a step towards a black Pope, an African Pope or a Latin American pope, I can imagine that.”
Reuters also reported that there had been much speculation in the Church on whether the successor of Pope Benedict XVI should be a non-European, which would a first in a millennium.
The statement from Koch, an insider in the Vatican bureaucracy, was more mystifying than predictive of the outcome of the conclave.
He cautioned against making predictions on who the next Pope could be. “The election is very secret, even in the conclave, no one knows who the other person is voting for as we put ballot in the chalice,” he said.
I am writing simply to provide some updates and contextual data from several authoritative sources (since I have no expertise and am not a specialist on religious affairs) to enable Filipino Catholics from indulging in unrealistic expectations on the prospects of Cardinal Luis Tagle being elected the next Pope.
Sin was a ‘papabili’
The last time a Filipino prelate was mentioned as a “papabili” was during the election of Benedict to succeed Pope John Paul II. That man was Jaime Cardinal Sin, the controversial activist archbishop of Manila, widely recognized as one of the driving forces behind the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution that toppled the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.
That didn’t help push the speculation on Sin’s chances to the papacy. A Catholic bishop told me Sin received only five votes in that conclave.
On the eve of the conclave, BBC News published a list of 10 candidates “in the running to lead the Catholic Church.”
One of them is Tagle, at the age of 55 the second-youngest cardinal at the conclave. His entry runs: “Reputation as man of the people. Media-savvy, frequent broadcaster. Served on International Theologian Commission.”
Tagle is quoted as saying, “The Church must discover the power of silence. Confronted with the sorrows, doubts and uncertainties, of the people, she cannot pretend to give easy solutions.”
Strengths: “Asia’s front-runner, strong communicator, charismatic, described as having a theologian’s mind, a musician’s soul and a pastor’s heart.” Weakneses: “No real curial experience, seen as young and inexperienced.”
BBC did not make any spin for Tagle and equally made brief summaries for the other nine:
According to Yahoo News, of the 118 cardinal electors, based on the Vatican website, the biggest bloc is from Europe (62), followed by Latin America (19), North America (14), Africa (11), Asia (11), and Oceania (1).
According to the International Herald Tribune, while it is too early to talk of front-runners, hints of the characteristics sought in a future Pope can be discerned from utterances of the cardinals who had spent the past week in meetings at Vatican.
The cardinals frequently cited the attributes the Church now needs: “a compelling communicator who wins souls through both his words and his holy bearing, and a fearless sheriff who can tackle the disarray and scandal in the Vatican…
“Their focus on communication and governance is in some ways an acknowledgement of the deficiencies of Pope Benedict XVI … but it is also a sign of nostalgia for John Paul, a magnetic presence who commanded the spotlight on his trips around the world.”
On Benedict’s watch, the newspaper said: “The Church lost sway in Europe, the United States and even Latin America. The central bureaucracy in Rome, the Curia, feel more deeply in dysfunction and even corruption … Several cardinals were reported to have been ‘seriously troubled’ by recent reports in the Italian news media about a secret dossier that had been given to Benedict and said to contain ‘evidence of sexual and financial blackmail.’”
Benedict’s successor takes the helm at a difficult time, the BBC reported. “In the West, the Church is struggling to fill pews as congregations dwindle, while the number of priests is also falling,” it said.
The next Pope will also have “to shore up confidence in an institution that has been rocked for several years by sexual abuse of minors by priests.”