2001 April/Papabile

It is believed by those of us in Rome that sometime in mid-February, the Holy Father will name about 25 new cardinals who will be under 80 years of age and accordingly may be expected to vote on the choice of his successor. It may be useful to consider a few of the worst problems that will face the next pope, and a few of the bishops who are reportedly highly regarded among the cardinals who will vote.

  • There has been a total failure to recruit new priests for 30 years. For example, there were no candidates in Dublin, Ireland, last year at all. In US dioceses, such as that of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA), the same situation has been true for years.
  • The pontificate of Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) plunged the Roman Catholic Church into chaos from which it has not recovered.
  • The Jesuits have engaged in smoldering warfare with the last four popes. Pope John XXIII seemed ready to suppress them 40 years ago. They have been a major problem for Pope John Paul II throughout his reign.
  • Dioceses worldwide are smothered with scandal. Homosexuality is a major problem, more or less, in religious orders. These problems barely scratch the surface. Besides these concerns, analysts are bearing in mind the following considerations which will influence the choice of the conclave.
  • Any pressure to elect another non-Italian pope is fading as non-Italian candidates are controversial or unpopular with the electing cardinals. No non-Italian has the merits of Cardinal Wojtyla, who was selected because of the strong chance he would destabilize Russia and the fact that he had a major role in writing the anti-birth control letter, Humanae Vitae, published by Pope Paul VI in 1968. Despite this, six names in particular keep coming up, all different than those bandied about just five or six years ago as being “papabile”: three Italians, a Czech, an Austrian, and a Colombian (South America).
  • The election conclave is likely to see a duel between Pope John Paul’s powerful right hand, the Italian Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re, and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who is disliked by the Roman Curia but admired by non-Italian cardinals.
  • The new Catechism of the Catholic Church (published 1994) is highly unpopular with both left and right wings and embarrasses the Austrian candidate, Archbishop Christoph von Schonborn, who organized the writing of it.
  • The most powerful man in Rome over the last decade, Archbishop Re, who is himself unpopular and the object of violent reactions, won’t be elected, but might possibly maneuver to get his man elected. The new system (see Angelus Press Edition of SiSiNoNo, “The Next Conclave,” No.13) of voting will debut at this conclave, requiring only half the cardinals to agree on a candidate to be elected. But this of course opens the door to an even split, open “schism,” if a man with half the votes is rejected by half, or nearly half, the cardinals.
  • Child molestation can be linked to new post-Vatican II sex education programs which are object of strong protests. This outrage eliminates any candidate connected with authorship and publication of the program.
  • The South American cardinals seem too divided to be of any use to a South American candidate, though the Colombian, Bishop Dario Castrillon Hoyos, might get the support of Cardinal Ratzinger.
  • Pope John Paul II has told Archbishop Runcie that union of the Roman Catholic Church with that of the Church of England has for now been ruled out by Anglican insistence to ordain women. Ecumenism is said to be really given up by all Catholic bishops in England, even the most liberal, as no basis at all for union now exists.
  • John Paul nearly died after his taxing trip to Georgia, which was scheduled to open doors for him into Moscow, but Russian hostility is stronger than ever and unlikely to change for another generation or so.
  • On the whole, the Jubilee Year was a failure. Smaller crowds than expected converged for all events with the exception of the Youth Rally in Rome. This was judged a success due to enthusiastic new groups worldwide that have taken the place of dying organizations like the Jesuits.
  • In the US, Catholic schools are deteriorating, and are effectively opposed now by the new approach of groups like Opus Dei.
  • The China problem remains unsolved for the Vatican, with worsening problems in missionary countries. Inroads of the protestant sects have effected a major collapse of the Church in northern South America. Apostasy has resulted in an almost complete loss of France and Ireland, sparking demands of some for reform by rethinking the changes of the last 30 years.
  • The huge personal popularity of our obviously unhealthy Pope seems related to his obvious skills and temperament of an actor, which are especially well-suited to lead and direct great crowds. This raises the question whether in these days a TV-type pope is almost a necessity. If so, this would clearly favor the photogenic and tactful Colombian (Cardinal Hoyos) over everybody else.

DARIO CASTRILLON HOYOS, born in Medellin, Colombia (1929), ordained priest (1952), consecrated bishop (1971). Bishop of Pereira, Colombia (1976); about 1,000,000 people, all Catholics (nominally), and about 175 priests. Archbishop of Bucaramanga, Colombia (1996); about 1,000,000 people, all Catholics (nominally), and about 200 priests. Called to the Vatican by Pope John Paul II to oversee the Congregation that deals with measures to promote holiness of priests and their intellectual adaptation to modern times. Made Cardinal (1998). Famous because he will go anywhere, speak to anyone; rioting peasants or Communists perhaps a specialty; all taken in stride without missing a beat. Obviously intelligent; tells people what they like to hear, without, it seems, violating Church doctrine. Unique among the cardinals and perhaps among all modern churchmen, he decided one day to look in on the press room and see the journalists who cover the Vatican at work. He said a few words to them. When he was finished, all the journalists stood up and cheered, an incident as inconsistent with the fundamental nature of the elements involved than the parting of the Red Sea. Recently he has been named to oversee the peaceful restoration of the old Tridentine Mass and the pacification of those infuriated when the Vatican replaced it. It seems to many that this will be his Waterloo; passion on both sides is very intense. It seems he may have been picked for this most ticklish assignment by the all-powerful Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re, chief adviser to Pope John Paul II, possibly so as to weaken and diminish Cardinal Hoyos lest he become a successful rival in the next conclave to Archbishop Re’s supposed candidate, Bishop Dionigi Tettamanzi (of whom we speak soon). Looks considerably younger thin his years. Lean, but-so far as his facial expression goes anyhow-not mean. People in Colombia are said to be less enthusiastic about him than people in other countries. Up close, in an office, in a normal working situation, he is said to not be formidably impressive, but just a nice, intelligent man. This is exactly the common opinion held about Karol Wojtyla during the ten years before he became the pope.

Knives are being sharpened now to cut down the prominent South Americans, especially Hoyos and another cardinal from Colombia, Lopez Trujillo, now working in the Curia, both of whom have considerable prestige. Cardinals Hoyos and Trujillo strike most people as the papal front-runners if there is any truth in the view that South America, with the largest concentration of Catholics on the planet, is the region from which the next pope ought to be chosen.

Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, by the way, was spoken of as a man destined to be pope when he was 35 years old. That was 30 years ago. He comes from a decidedly prominent family in Colombia, and he was already general secretary for the most important organization of bishops in the world, the South American Conference.

In the Republic of Colombia, standards of education and of general culture are admittedly a good deal higher than in almost any other part of Latin America, and many seem to think that the best educated churchmen of Colombia are fully the equals of any European churchmen – as well prepared as anyone to confront all the problems of the Church. “Venezuela is the barracks, Colombia is the university, and Ecuador is the seminary,” says a proverb in that region. That is to say, Venezuela is the nation of soldiers, Colombia is the paradise of intellectuals and of high culture, and Ecuador is the land of pious priests and laity.

The omnipotence of the Left, however, in the press of the Western world, will surely exclude both of the cardinals from Colombia. I know the sort of men who wind up writing about the Church, and I know pretty well what they are likely to write about the conclave and their election. It doesn’t matter too much what really goes on. The same kind of things are going to be said, in the same tone of voice. Castrillon Hoyos or Lopez Trujillo will most undoubtedly be denounced hysterically, as conspirators deeply involved with “fascist” governments in Colombia. In any case, the readiness of the liberal journalists to denounce anybody and everybody as “fascist” or “anti-Semitic,” together with their total ignorance of history, their great gullibility, and, in a few cases, the almost complete lack of what is called the critical faculty, portends the election of an Italian at the death of Pope John Paul II.

COUNT CHRISTOPH VON SCHONBORN, born Czechoslovakia (1945), ordained priest (1970). Archbishop of Vienna; extremely young to be a papal candidate. To those who knew him as a young Dominican priest, prior to his rise to greatness five years ago, he seemed a serious but pleasant, a spiritually-minded but delightfully human person. A few carping voices insist we should not forget that, however agreeable and well-bred, the Count was not intellectually well prepared for the delicate task assigned him to organize an orthodox, quasi-official, catechism that in 1985 Rome resolved to bring out. It was felt that something of the sort was obviously needed to contradict, discredit, and replace a huge flood of catechisms, prepared originally by Jesuits in Germany, Holland, Belgium and France in the 1950’s. On close inspection these turned out to be far, far more Protestant than Catholic in tone and content. There was hell’s own amount of trouble over preparing a new catechism that had no reason to exist except, indirectly, and blandly and suavely, to condemn liberal Catholicism. In brief, the huge, and not exactly readable, book Schonborn turned out has reportedly made enemies of its more serious readers, so that now this ecclesiastic is distrusted by both conservatives and liberals.

The liberals are secretly furious because Schonborn’s catechism turned out to be, if anything, more solemn and official in its unequivocal condemnation of all artificial birth control than the encyclicals Casti Connubii [Pope Pius XI (1930), available from Angelus Press. Price: $3.75] and Humanae Vitae. They were dismayed that he did not tone down his hand-slapping of modern theology, even though the condemnation is only implied by an aggressive treatment of the traditional belief in original sin. The liberal bishops cannot complain openly, but they hate this new Catechism of the Catholic Church for the orthodoxy which it sometimes shows. This is bound to make a difference in sophisticated theological circles concerning Cardinal Schonborn.

Schonborn’s enormous book is said to be really offensive, though for different reasons, to more or less everyone in the higher levels of the Church. Conservatives don’t like the tone of it because more than half this “catechism” turned out to be just a collection of editorials, written from a strong left-wing point of view. Some occasional restatements of old orthodoxy are found, as we have seen – and exactly where they are least wanted in the US or Paris – but these echoes of medieval faith are incongruously floating about in a flood of sugary and watery verbiage. Conservatives find that the Catholic parts of the book are like a dinner lying under three million tons of lemon-colored jello. Malcontents, therefore, raise the question of this cardinal’s intellectual qualifications to produce a monumental catechism or any serious work whatever. They will tell you that the man had never produced anything serious or interesting prior to going to work on this project, and you are led to conclude that nothing ever changed.

DIONIGI TETTAMANZI, born in Milan (1934). Small in appearance, more like Sicilian or south Italian than light-skinned north Italian. Said to be an excellent moral theologian, one of Pope John Paul II’s major areas of expertise. Moral theology is an intensely topical and controversial field now. All conventional moral teaching is being called into question and many points never before challenged are explicitly called into question. Systematic treatments of ethical questions are of great importance in order to help priests make judgments in the confessional. Ordained in 1957, after teaching moral theology most of his life and writing books, he was made Archbishop of Ancona in 1991. Highly popular with other Italian bishops, he was elected President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference quite a few years ago, and predictions that he would some day be elected pope began to be heard. When a lot of bishops really like and trust you, when they feel you are the kind of man they want to represent them to the world and act as a fair judge in their quarrels with other bishops, you seem to have the main qualities a pope will need. As he was in the seminary with Giovanni Battista Re, and they seem to have stayed friends, it is thought that Re, as one of the two or three most powerful men in the next conclave, will back his old friend. Tettamanzi is criticized occasionally for weakness, caution, cowardice, a passion for being non-committal. When made a cardinal (1998), it appeared he was not confident, not very familiar with worldly people and their ways – certainly not at ease with the mob of well-wishers who suddenly found him important because he was a cardinal, nor the newspapers that said he might become pope.