(CV Director Austen Ivereigh is in Rome, from where he sends the first of regular updates and background briefings on the papal transition.)
As the last cardinal-electors arrive in Rome, and the workmen move into the Sistine Chapel to get it ready for the conclave, a number of the men who will be voting for the successor of St Peter have been sharing their vision of the qualities they are looking for.
Of the 115 cardinal electors – that is, aged under 80 – perhaps only 10-15 bring together the requisite combination of experience, gifts and skills that the office of pope requires. But this is not like looking for a CEO of a multinational corporation. During the general congregations, as the daily pre-conclave meetings which began on Monday are known, the cardinals are engaged in a process of discernment: whom, among them, is God calling at this time?
That means gathering information about the needs of the Church and the challenges of the age, and informally asking each other about what they know about this or that cardinal.
That takes time – time that many of them are saying they need. “Many cardinals are concerned that if there is not enough time spent in the general congregations that once we get into the conclave it could drag on,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston (picture, right) told journalists yesterday at the North American College, adding: “the preference would be to have enough discussions previous that when people go to the conclave they already have a sort of pretty good idea of who they are going to vote for at that point.”
Cardinal Daniel Di Dardo of Galveston-Houston (picture, left) agreed that the process “takes as long as it takes”.
The discussions in the Synod Hall are currently taking the form of speeches which are free-flowing and not time-limited (cardinals ask for the opportunity to speak, and are put on a list; there are translators available). Later there may be small-group or language-group discussions on particular themes, and time-limited speeches.
Outside the synod hall, the cardinals are not free to divulge the contents of the confidential discussions, but they have been speaking in general terms of the current challenges and the main qualities they are looking for. Here are what five English-speaking cardinals from across the world have recently said they are focussing on.
Cardinal George Pell of Sydney says he “won’t be looking for a candidate from a particular area — I think where the next pope comes from is quite secondary to his personal capacity to lead the Church”. He then lists what he calls the “rudimentary” factors: the next pope must be “a man of faith and prayer, a good track record, a man with languages … a strategist, a decision-maker, a planner, somebody who has got strong pastoral capacities already demonstrated so that he can take a grip of the situation and take the Church forward.”
The “ability to govern is important”, he says. “I mean when you compare the irreligion and the demographic decline in Europe, the violence against Christians in the Middle East, the need to try to open up China, the problems of the (Roman) Curia are not in that league. But it would be very useful for the Church for the new Pope to be able to improve the morale of the Curia, to strengthen their sense of well-being. It would appear that substantial problems have been identified through Vatileaks and such things, so I think these need to be addressed in a real way, and they need to be addressed in a way, you might even say symbolically, so that the world outside realizes that the new pope has grasped and is well aware of the opportunities that we have, but is also well aware of the particular challenges and is willing to try to do something about them.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington says the pope must obviously know how to govern the Church but “the overriding factor” is the future pope’s “spiritual vision”: “How will this Pope lead us into this century, proclaiming the spiritual mission of the Church, holding up faith in Jesus Christ as the way to build a better world?”
The cardinal, who was secretary-general of the synod of bishops in October last year on the topic of the ‘new evangelisation’, said the new pope must be focused on carrying forward that task of re-presenting the Catholic offer in cultures and legal systems no longer supportive of, and often hostile to, Christianity.
I think the person who will now fill the Chair of Peter has to carry on the vision of Blessed John Paul and of Benedict that the New Evangelisation is where we have to be focused. That we are being submerged in a secularism and we are being engulfed in this vision of the world that has limited the horizon to the here and now, and we have to be able to look to the young people coming along in the future, and invite them to an experience of God. I think that has to be the overriding vision of the next pope.
Cardinal Wuerl also spoke of the importance of the pope’s “ministry of presence” to the world. But this didn’t necessarily mean physical travel, he said. “Today we live in a world of media, of instantaneous communication, of electronic communication, and I think the Pope has to have the vision to see this as the way to exercise the Petrine Office around the world, and the energy to devote a substantial proportion of his ministry to this virtual presence, an electronic presence. That will take energy, not necessarily physical stamina.”
South Africa’s Cardinal Wilfred Napier says in the 2013 conclave “there’s a wider field of choices” than 2005, including “younger cardinals who, I believe, have real qualities of leadership”. He said age was a big factor: the ideal candidate is between 60 and 65 years old: “I don’t think we can have another short pontificate,” he told Catholic News Service. He said a new pope would need time to build on the important foundations left behind by Blessed John Paul II and retired Pope Benedict XVI and build “momentum that grows in sync with the needs and demands that are becoming more evident,” he said.
The new pope must travel the world, helping to make the Catholic Church “a living reality” for people and revitalizing and reaffirming their faith, said the Archbishop of Durban, a Franciscan. He added that the new pope “cannot do it alone” and”is going to have to make sure he gets like-minded leadership together with him in the Vatican to be able to move the process forward.”
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, like Cardinal Pell, believes that “governance is the issue” heading into this conclave. The new pope will have to lead a serious reform of the Roman Curia, streamlining its procedures so that people’s lives are not put on hold indefinitely, and restoring a sense of trust compromised by the Vatileaks affair. “Obviously something’s not working if the personal papers of the pope can be purloined from his desk and be printed in the media, including papers we’ve sent,” he told the National Catholic Reporter.
He said “the magisterial challenge of the New Evangelization is a universal one” and “it’s something the new pope has to face.” But “he also has to face the reform of the Roman Curia. It’s clear that it’s hard to govern well, no matter where you are in the world, if the connect to the central government isn’t as strong as it might be because the central government isn’t working as well as it should be.”
He added: “There’s also personal stability, the depth of character founded upon his conversations with Jesus. There’s got to be an identification with Jesus as shepherd of his church. The mystery of Jesus is infinite, but there’s a certain dimension of it that’s particularly necessary for being a pastor. Quite apart from personal sanctity, you have to know Jesus enough to represent him to his people, so it’s governance. The issue is governance here.”
Cardinal George said the Pope also needed to be a universal pastor, with “a heart for the poor around the world.” Most Catholics, he says, “live in poorer countries, and their agenda is very different. In those countries, the church is a beloved institution.”
If you go to the world’s poor, who aren’t going to be on our television sets because they don’t know English and they haven’t had a liberal education, but if you go to the poorest of the poor and ask them about the Catholic church, they love the church. If you ask them about any country, their own or ours, it’s a very different response. The church is a beloved institution among the people who count, who are first in the Kingdom of God. We can forget that too often, in my own country in particular. The next pope must have a sense of that, among other things just to keep himself encouraged. It’s a reminder that it does work, the mission is working. The gospel is preached, the sacraments are administered, people are gathered into communities of love. It works. He has to have the confidence born of that sense, that experience, that sort of experience, which will enable him to have the courage that John Paul II showed in addressing the world, and that every evangelist shows. You can’t start out all the time fighting with one had behind your back. When there is a fight, you have to present the fullness of the truth.”
India’s Cardinal Telesphore Toppo believes that “it is the Church that produces the pope”: the strength of the Church in the country he hails from is an important factor. The Archbishop of Ranchi in India says the election of a pope is above all a process of listening. “I think we must listen to what the Spirit is telling the Church”, he told Vatican Insider. “That is my attitude. Of course ‘whisperings’ go on, cardinals speak to one another. Those who are here in Rome do so. I try to listen to the Holy Spirit more than to people, but among the ‘whisperings’ of course the Holy Spirit is also whispering.”
In the general congregations, he says, someone begins to emerge.
At that one week preparatory meeting before the conclave, the cardinals – after putting their hands on the Bible and taking the oath – speak about the Church in the world, knowing that the next pope is there among them, and is listening to what the other cardinals are saying. So whether they are speaking and making an intervention or keeping quiet, you can see the outstanding persons. So in those 13 or 14 days preparation before the 2005 conclave, which actually only lasted two days, many of us began to feel that everything seemed to be indicating this man. Somehow, if you are open to the Spirit, he speaks to you. The election of a pope is not like the election of the American president; this is a unique event in the Catholic Church. By trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit the cardinals can do their job.