Since Pope Benedict XVI announced his impending abdication, there has been an alluvia of interest in who will succeed the German Shepherd as the Vicar of Christ. Speculation in the secular media has centered on superficialities, like whether the Italians will “take back” the Chair of St. Peter. Other reports evaluated the angle of European cardinals voting en bloc to keep the papacy in the Old World. Many media types were energized by the prospect of a Pope who did not emanate from Europe.
To keep American audiences interested, there was obligatory appraisals of an American Pope. But much of the excitement in the secular press was the drum beat for a third world pope, especially from Africa. Actually, there have been three Popes born in Africa, Pope St. Victor I, Pope St. Militiades I, and Pope St. Gelasius I.
|[L] Pope St. Victor I, [C] Pope St. Militiades, [R] Pope St. Gelasius I|
But these early Church pontiffs were Berbers from the Maghreb, so the Lamestream Media might not consider them worthy of being considered African or third world according to politically correct sensibilities. Even Fox News Channel was touting the merits of several Latin America papabili, which should have gladdened the hearts of an emerging viewing demographic.
At this point, anyone who claims that they know who will be elected the next Supreme Pontiff is blowing sfumata out of what is decidedly not the Sistine Chapel smokestack. While current Canon Law does not prohibit placing wages with Paddy Power on the next pope, it would be foolish to do so, especially before the College of Cardinals sets the date and the Holy Spirit works with the electors.
In the coming days, it may be interesting to evaluate some of the papabili to appreciate who will lead the world’s 1.2 billion professed Catholics. To do so seriously, one ought to abandon the siren calls of nationality or skin tone and discern deeper. A good way to achieve this objective is to think in time. By considering the past papal conclaves since 1900, one can appreciate trends, how external circumstances influence Conclaves as well as the attributes of the prior Pope.
The numbers of Cardinals participating have grown from around 60 to around being capped at 120. This Conclave will have 115 electors. It used to be that the vast majority of Cardinals were European (and about half hailing from Italy. This the Papacy was seen as the Italian Job (sic) in secular European politics. After the 1938 Conclave, more Cardinals were appointed from throughout the world, to recognize the global impact of the Catholic Church. Today, just over half of the Cardinals are from Europe, and only 22% are from Italy. The United States has eight Cardinal electors, and Canada has three. There are 22 Cardinals who have been appointed in the last year.
There have been nine Conclaves since 1900. With the exception of 1978, the year of three Popes, a large majority of the electors have been appointed by the immediate predecessor. Popes are more likely to appoint Cardinals who agree with their theological weltanschauung. Hence, it is folly to think that there will be a radical break in theology in the succeeding Supreme Pontiff.
Be that as it may, there is a change in character with the change in Vicars of Christ. Some of this is inevitable as everyone brings their own experiences and tendencies to the Chair of St. Peter. But the College of Cardinals can consciously choose a leader with a different tenor. As the Roman expression goes “A fat pope followed by a thin pope.” This vivid expression is not only an aesthetic aphorism, but it implies leadership qualities. Svelte Supreme Pontiffs can be taken as being severe or more doctrinally oriented, whereas portly popes can be perceived as pastoral or jolly.
In the 1922 Conclave, the College of Cardinals choose a physically vigorous Archbishop Achille Cardinal Ratti of Milan to become Pope Pius XI to replace a more sickly pastoral Pope Benedict XV ( né Giocomo dell Chiesa, Archbishop of Bolognia). A similar prima facie physical contrast went into the 1958 Conclave where a pastoral, portly Angelo Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice became Pope (Blessed) John XXIII to replace a lean Pope (Venerable) Pius XII (né Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State).
Another folk pope philosophy is “Young pope, old pope.” Not that the College of Cardinals are simply contrarian. But after Pope Leo XIII’s 25 year reign, the Conclave eventually chose Pope (St.) Pius X (né Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, the Patriarch of Venice) at age 67, who only reigned for 11 years. After the nearly 19 year pontificate of Pope Blessed Pius XII, the 1958 Conclave chose the man who became Pope John XIII , who was elected at age 77. It was widely presumed that Pope John XIII would be a caretaker Pope. Little did anyone realize that this avuncular old “Good Pope John” would initiate an “aggiornamento” which called for a Church Council more widely known as Vatican II. After the 25 ½ year reign of Pope (Venerable) John Paul II (né Karol Józef Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow, Poland), the 2005 Conclave chose 78 year old Benedict XVI (ne Josef Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and former Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany). In the 1958 Conclave, some apocryphal sources claim that French Bishops voted in a bloc to intentionally choose someone old.
Thus there is some wisdom to that folk maxim. The average age of those as Pope in the last nine Conclaves has been 64.8 years. This includes Pope Benedict XVI elected at age 78 and Pope John XIII elected age 77. Conventional wisdom amongst Conclave speculators for serious Papabili is between the ages 60 and 72, but we can not limit the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in helping the electors discern.
|Cardinal Mariano Rampolla|
|Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I|
|Cardinal Jan Puzyna|
Securing the rights for a secular status of the Holy See was another thing that the College of Cardinals needed to consider when choosing a Pope. The loss of the Papal State in 1870 left the Holy See in a quandary vis-a-vis the newly united Kingdom of Italy so Popes effectively became prisoners of the Vatican until this issue was resolved. The election of Pope Pius XI in 1924 (né Cardinal Achille Ratti) who had significant experience in the Vatican diplomatic corps. This helped facilitate the Lateran Pacts with Italian dictator Mussolini, which create the Vatican State. Pope Pius XI also resolved relations with France.
The Conclaves also may have sought to impact the political world with their choice for the Supreme Pontiff. For the first Conclave of 1978, the cardinals chose Pope John Paul I (né Albino Luciani, the Patriarch of Venice) as some have opined that his election and governing style may influence Italian politics. Of course, the world would never know as "Il Papa del Sorriso" (the Smiling Pope) only occupied the Chair of St. Peter for 32 days.
For those who subscribe to the Siri Thesis, the 1958 Conclave initially chose Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, the Archbishop of Geneo, who was theologically conservative but also an avid anti-communist. Supposedly French Bishops suppressed this choice out of concern about antagonizing the Cold War.
On the other hand, the Second 1978 Conclave chose Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyla, the archbishop of Krakow, Poland as Pope John Paul II who not only was from a Catholic Communist country but who had a reputation for gently challenging the powers that be for freedom of religion.
|Pope Benedict XV|
Pope Benedict XV was unsuccessful in causing a cessation of hostilities or having a place in the Paris Peace conference of 1919, some of his ideas seemed to have been incorporated into Wilson’s Fourteen Point Plan. But Pope Benedict XV was active in engaging in a diplomatic offensive to secure the rights of the faithful in post-war Europe. Benedict XV also led by issuing Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum in November of 1914 by calling the Great War “the suicide of Europe.”
|Pope Pius XII|
Contemporary criticism of Pope Pius XII claim that he did little to stop the Holocaust. Defenders of Pius XII note that had the Holy See issued scathing condemnation of Nazis would hurt German Catholics and draw in a condemnation of Bolsheviks too. But to think that Pius XII did nothing to ameliorate this tragedy is Pope Fiction. Contemporary witnesses praised Pope Pius XII for saving hundreds of thousands of Jews from Nazi brutality.
Approaches to theology certainly color the Conclave’s choices. The Pontificate of Pope Leo XII was not only the third longest in Papal history but it was remarkable for its attempt to redefine the Church with modern thinking. The pendulum eventually swung in 1903 when a conservative Pope Pius X reacted against Modernism. When Pope John XIII died in the midst of Vatican II, the choice of Pope (Venerable) Paul VI (né Cardinal Giovanni Montini, the former Secretary of State and Archbishop of Milan) who was a moderate who wanted to bolster the reforms of Vatican II. The 2005 Conclave chose Pope (emeritus) Benedict XVI (né Cardinal Josef Ratzinger), who marked a continuity with Pope John Paul II’s preserving the “hermeneutics of continuity” with Vatican II along with endorsing the New Evangelization and commitment to World Youth Days.
|Pope John Paul II on Pilgrimage in Los Angeles|
But in the age of modern communications, spreading the gospel can also be done electronically. It is a question of outreach to those not actively in Roman shepherd’s flock. Continuing the pattern from Pope John XIII and Pope Paul VI, outreach to the Orthodox and Protestants is crucial, especially in an age when all our creeds are threatened by secularism and the unforgiving implementation of sharia. Pope John Paul II was remarkable seeking to solidify relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters, which Pope Benedict XVI continued.
However, outreach to those not within the Catholic flock is not always recognition of different paths. Pope Benedict XVI’s motu propio “Anglicanorum Coetibus” invited Anglicans to join the Catholic Church while retaining most aspects of their traditional patrimony. Pope Benedict XVI also issued a 2007 motu propio "Summorum Pontificum" which restored the Extraordinary form of the Mass (Tridentine Liturgy) which seemed to have opened the door for schismatic groups like the Society of Pope Pius X but most SPPX members have not availed themselves en mass to rejoin the Catholic Church.
|Pope Benedict XVI at Regensburg, Germany 2006|
Although thinking in time may not vet specific candidates for the Conclave 2013, it does highlight how a variety of factors like the papabili’s age, the predecessor’s profile and contributions, the theology, the Zeitgeist and the evolving roles of the papacy impact the election.
In a Conclave where there is not just a few front-runners, a short Conclave may be indicative that a candidate favored by the Curia was chosen. While the College of Cardinals was given the power to convene a Conclave quicker after an abdication than the 15 days proscribed after a Papal death, Conclave 2013 has not been speedy to convene. This is attributable to the slow arrival of Kazimierz Cardinal Nycz, Archbishop of Warsaw and Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Man, Archbishop of Ho Chi Min City. Since all of the Cardinal electors needed to be present to move up the Conclave start date, one wonders if travel troubles was the real reason that the stragglers did not arrive for a week after Pope -Emeritus Benedict XVI’s abdication.