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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Papal Election and the Nationality Question

Lot of speculation out there right now about who the Church will tap to be the next pope.  For a good round-up of articles about the resignation and election check out Father Stephen Wang's blog, Bridges and Tangents.

Alongside the spiritual/theological/doctrinal questions and the overall direction of the Church as we slide deeper into the 21st century is (surprise) the question of nationality.  The Roman Catholic Church is an international organization with about 1.1 billion members scattered all over the globe.  HQ may be in Rome but there is a fair amount of circulation of "middle management" - expatriate priests who are called from one country to serve parishes in another.  When I was growing up in the U.S. my parish priest was Irish.  In the church I attend today my local priest is French but my confessor is from Madagascar.  My brother's church in California recently welcomed yet another priest from France (they have had several over the past few years).  This is likely to become even more common in the future since some regions like Europe are seeing a decline in vocations while Africa, the Americas and Asia are seeing growth.

If you look at the raw numbers three of the top five Roman Catholic populations are in the Americas:  Brazil, Mexico and the the United States.  The Philippines comes in third place and the first European country (Italy) is in fifth place just ahead of France.   And yet you might have noticed that popes tend to be European by origin.  Pope John Paul II was, as we all know, Polish and the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is German but most popes in the recent past have come from Italy.

So what are the chances that the conclave will elect a pope from North or South America, Asia or Africa?  That is one of the burning questions being discussed among the faithful all over the world in every country.  The next pope will be elected by a conclave of 117 cardinals of which the majority are from Europe.  What will they be looking for in a new pope?  Here is a nice summary:
Each cardinal looks for three things. First, he looks for someone who would be a good pope, which means someone who agrees with the cardinal’s values and vision for the church.
Second, he looks for someone with whom he can have a good relationship. Ideally, he wants one of his cardinal friends as pope, someone who will listen to him. Personal relationships matter.
Third, he wants someone who will be well received in his home country, or at least someone who will not cause problems in the cardinal’s county. For example, U.S. cardinals would not want a pope who does not understand the sexual abuse crisis and says stupid things like “it is a creation of the media.” Nor do cardinals from countries with lots of Muslims want a pope who says stupid things about Islam. As Tip O’Neil said, “All politics is local.” This also applies to the Catholic Church.
I don't disagree with the last but in an worldwide organization the global dimension matters a lot:  global politics and the larger context of this multi-lingual, multi-national, (dare say it?) multi-cultural organization.  Country of origin, linguistic skills, and the ability to cross cultures matters in this context.  And will the cardinals take this into account?  You bet they will.

An American pope?  Recently there has been a very open discussion about what it would mean to have a pope from the United States and why some think it wouldn't be a good idea.  Cardinal George Pell of Australia in this video was very frank about the implications of such an election:

This was followed by an interview with the American cardinal Donald Wuerl who seemed to concur that it would not be wise to have a pope from the U.S. because "I think the conventional wisdom, which I think is correct, is a pope from the superpower would probably have a lot going against him when he's trying to present a spiritual message to the rest of the world."

So if I follow this argument correctly they are basically saying that just by virtue of nationality and their connection to a "super-puissance"  the American cardinals are out of the race even before it begins.

A South American Pope?  What about a pope from South America?  One candidate who is getting a lot of attention is  Cardinal Leonardo Sandri from Argentina.   He was born in Buenos Aires but his parents were Italian and he speaks 5 languages and is known for his skills as a diplomat.  But spite of the large numbers of Catholics in Latin America that region does not have a lot of representation in the conclave (only 19 out of 117).  So the election of a Latin American pope rests on the decision of the European cardinals to consider (or not) a non-European to the papacy and their choosing a Latin American over an African.

An African pope?  Two solid candidates in the running according to the bookies:  Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana and Cardinal Francis Arinze from Nigeria.  Cardinal Turkson seems more likely because he is younger but who knows?  If the cardinals do choose an African it would be the first one in 1500 years - the last pope from that continent was Pope Gelasius (492-496).

All of the above (and so many more) are possibilities and but clearly some are more "papabile" than others.  Nothing I've said above should give any of you the idea that country of origin is the primary consideration in the election but it is important and it appears to be a deal breaker in at least one case (the U.S.) and probably others as well.

Do I have a preference?  Well, clearly I don't have a vote in this and honestly that doesn't bother me one whit.  I'm simply not qualified to make that judgement and I'm perfectly OK leaving that burden (and what a burden it is) firmly in the hands of the conclave.  There are so many different considerations that the cardinals must weigh that one can only hope that divine inspiration will heavily inform their votes.

But may I simply say that there are three qualities that I would like to see in the next Holy Father?  The first is that the new pope be truly global - multi-lingual with deep experience and contacts with cultures outside of his own.  The second is that hard to define quality (but you-know-it-when-you-see-it) called charisma - an inspirational leader with eloquence, persuasive power, and likability. The third is the power to heal - lot of open wounds right now in the Church and there is no hiding that fact.

As the conclave prepares to meet (and I believe it opens tomorrow) these are the things I hope and pray for in the soon to be elected 266th spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church.


Berliniquais said...

Hello Victoria,

A very good post. I agree with you "criteria", or qualities you hope to see in the next Pope. Who would be the ideal Pope? It's very hard to say. I was deeply disappointed by Mr Ratzinger's election back then, and he did not fail to meet my low expectations of him, blundering his way throughout his entire papacy, to which he thankfully put an early end.

John Paul II had been a very likeable and charismatic Pope, but he also made a few mistakes. Under his rule, the Church's wounds gaped ever more open. And because of my age, I mostly remember him as a frail old man, shaking and muttering pitifully on every appearance. That was not pretty.

I hope the next Pope will be young. Let's say, in his fifties, like John Paul II when he was elected. In with the young and healthy, out with the ailing gerontocracy! I hope the next Pope will be a moderniser. Like John XXIII and (less so) Paul VI. "Modernising" the Church is of course a very perilous exercise, putting it at risk of disputes and Schisms, but well, something has to be done.

Because I'm black, of course I'd be thrilled to have an African Pope. But then, when I think of African Christians, I think of "kill the gays" Uganda. When I think of the Latin American Catholic clergy, my first thought is that Brazilian bishop who had swiftly excommunicated the mother of this 9-year-old girl who had had a life-saving abortion (and the doctors who performed it), rather than the stepfather who had repeatedly raped her and made her pregnant in the first place...

Our Catholic Church is in tatters indeed. Will this election herald a new era? I will be watching closely again, and I hope that on Easter Sunday, we will have a new Pope who will bring the Church together, with emphasis on the love of Christ.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Victoria!

Anonymous said...

Stupid comment here, but just for fun:
Does anyone know if the pope has signature authority over accounts in Italy?
If so would an American pope have to file FBARs detailing all the details about the Catholic church's accounts in Italy.
Would the church be OK with their accounts being disclosed to the IRS?
Would that disqualify the American cardinal to be considered for the Pope position?
I just wish that it would be the case, and that it would make the news... Only prominent people being affected and going public would make officials in Washington realize the problems associated with this law and maybe do something about it.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@JM, Oh, yes! Young would be great.

I'm personally conservative enough that I want to change to be thoughtful and slow but that doesn't mean that I think that there shouldn't be change at all. But we need someone to lead it and as you point out, Benedict wasn't that person.

@anonymous, Good question! Probably moot since an American pope is not in the cards. But what about Americans working in the Vatican or American priests working in other countries? For that matter what is the impact of the US's tax and reporting requirements on the US clergy of other denominations who live and work outside the US as missionaries? We haven't heard much from this population, have we? Might be worth looking into.

Ellen Lebelle said...

Anonymous's comment about the FBAR, and probably the 8938, considering the wealth of the Vatican Bank. When Pope Benedict XVI announced his decision to resign, we were in Washington and this example of why an American would not be chosen as a company CEO was a very clear when we used it on our visits to congressional offices!