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Who’s on the List Today?
by Paul Wilkes
Friday, April 15, 2005

“If you are talking issues, it is pretty straightforward who are the dominant contenders,” says Rev. Keith Pecklers, a professor at the Gregorian University and a commentator on ABC News. “Some feel Vatican II went much too far and the balance must be restored, as John Paul II felt. These would be [Cardinals] Meisner of Cologne and Medina of Chile. A bigger group wants to recover the collegiality of Pope Paul VI—[Cardinals] Danneels of Belgium, Kasper of Germany, Murphy-O'Connor of Great Britain. They see not only the rift in the Church, but within the Church, between a centrist administration and the bishops and cardinals in the field.”

Father Pecklers’ list is one of the more informed in Rome. There are other, sometimes overlapping lists, with the front-runner depending on what issue the writer deems important before assembling the names.

In Il Sole-24 Ore, an Italian paper, there are lists of those who would thrust the Church further into civil society, like Cardinals Rodrigues Maradiaga of Honduras, Tumi of Cameroon, Hummes of Brazil. Then there are cardinals from the pro-Curia “business as usual” group like Somalo, Sodano, Hoyes and Re, who hold high Vatican positions.

So many names, so many issues. If you find your head spinning trying to keep them straight, join the club. It is no different here in Rome, where we theoretically should have a front-row seat on the whole adventure of electing a new pope. We are all guessing.

“I think the cardinals will be looking for a man with two ears.”

Sitting across the table from me at the Ristorante Abruzzi and slicing through a very tender piece of bistecca is Father John Navone, a senior professor at the Gregorian University. He’s been in Rome for 43 years and has witnessed the election of the past four popes. Yes, his impish smile seems to say, this election is multo importante, but so is lunch—and also maintaining a certain sense of humor and distance.

“The history of the papacy tells us cardinals typically don’t look for a carbon copy. They look to provide what was missing, what is needed in today’s Church,” he says.

“I think the cardinals want their multiplicity of voices to at least be heard. And I think that as they are talking to one another right now, perhaps more important than what is being said is the body language—signals like, ‘Is this person only a talker, not a listener?’”

The oft-mentioned need for an ecumenical approach resonates with Father Pecklers, but in an interesting way. “Yes, we as a Church, the new pope as our leader, must be in dialogue with other faiths, and Islam is getting most attention now. But what we may need first is a common voice with other Christians, not getting lost in our differences. We need to find out exactly what is this term we toss around so liberally: ‘The body of Christ.’ Are we? Are we acting that way? I think the cardinals realize this profoundly as they know that the Catholic Church is no longer this secure, unassailable doctrinal island.”

Another professor in another of the pontifical universities agreed. “When we look at how enormously complicated the Church is, we realize a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work. By force of John Paul II’s personality, there was a passion for the integrity of the faith, but there was also a quality of ‘I am right; I am the Holy Father ‘ that does not appeal to many of the cardinals, who, after all are thinking men themselves.”

Dialogue. This is the buzzword I hear over and over again in my interviews. John Paul II was not regarded as a great listener; he felt he had such a clear vision and mandate that there was no need to discuss issues that are so crucial in the Church in America and Europe.

Issues will certainly steer the course of the voting that begins in the Sistine Chapel on Monday. But personality will also matter. No, the cardinals will not be seeking another John Paul II, who, some say, became the world’s best-known person. They will look for a strong leader, a listener, someone who at once shares their sense of tradition and orthodoxy (after all, they passed John Paul’s litmus test in order to be appointed) and yet is not linear or closed-minded in his thinking.

That's why, from an ‘in country’ vantage point, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Venice still appears to be the compromise candidate to beat. He is not flashy but personable, cut in the roly-poly image of the beloved Pope John XXIII. He is traditional enough to please the Curia, yet not one of them. He is not the strongest candidate in any of the issue categories, but is conversant with them. He is also old enough, just turned 71, to promise the kind of shorter papacy many think is needed.

And to his advantage, some oddly say, he does not speak English.

Advantage? Yes, Tettamanzi would not be able to communicate directly with the huge, wealthy, and divided English-speaking Church. “The local bishops and cardinals would again be the teachers,” one source told me. “And they are eager, so eager, to begin to function in that way again.”


Paul Wilkes is a veteran journalist whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times magazine. He has authored 18 books on Catholicism, including the bestselling Excellent Catholic Parishes. He is the author of The Seven Secrets of Successful Catholics and the creator of New Beginnings, a parish revitalization program, which is distributed by St. Anthony Messenger Press. 



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