Random thoughts and insights – always shaken, never stirred

Before the White Smoke

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Despite all the handicapping you might see, no one actually knows who will emerge from the conclave as the next Pope. There is much speculation (and I’m going to give you mine, for what it’s worth) and even betting, but the reality is there are no polls or any of the mechanisms by which to track the progress of the ‘candidates’ or even who they are. The first tracking poll has just been taken in the Sistine Chapel, but there are no plans to release its results – now or ever. Over yesterday, today, and tomorrow, unless a Pope is elected, the cardinals will hold five votes, one yesterday and one each in the morning and afternoon today and tomorrow. Two of those votes have already been held with no result which is not surprising. The cardinals have no doubt by now determined what the rest of us will need to wait to find out – whether we are to have a strong Pope or a so-called ‘caretaker’ Pope. (In this one can be surprised – many thought John XXIII a caretaker yet he launched the most reforming ecumenical council since Trent.) It is possible to paint these options with some broad strokes. A strong Pope would be one from Latin America or Africa, young, and very much in the mode of John Paul II. A caretaker would be older, and either from Italy or Cardinal Ratzinger, who has been John Paul II’s right hand for some time.

I dismiss the speculation that the cardinals wish to return to an Italian for an Italian’s sake. It is true that save for the last Pope the Italians had a lock on the Papacy for over 450 years, but the institutional reasons for that have eroded over a 26 year non-Italian Pope. Of the 115 cardinal-electors present in Rome, only 20 of them are Italians – 17% is hardly a ‘lock,’ although it is an influential block. While we’re at it, here is a geographic breakdown of the 115:

Africa: 11

Asia: 12

Canada: 3

Europe: 58 (20 from Italy)

Latin America: 20

United States: 11

The developing world – where the Church is growing fastest – thus musters 41 cardinals (two are subtracted from Asia, one from Australia and one from New Zealand) against 58 for Europe as a whole. While the Europeans are likely comfortable with the idea of another Italian Pope, it is unlikely they are wedded to the idea. Latin America alone forms an equal counterweight to Italy. The 11 American cardinals – who have absolutely no chance whatsoever don’t even think about it – form an influential group of what we might in an American election term ‘swing voters.’ They have a strong interest in a Pope who will take care of business and move the Church beyond the pedophilia scandal which has so wracked the Church in the United States. If one looks at Europe vs. everyone else, the split is 58 to 57, dead even.

So, with 77 needed for election in this first phase, no one region has a decisive advantage. I realize that I’ve been couching this analysis entirely in geographic terms and I fully acknowledge other factors, not the least of which is the movement of the Holy Spirit in conclave. Many believe it was the Spirit who led the conclave to choose John Paul II and we may yet be surprised. It is interesting to note that if the cardinals fail to elect a Pope after a certain number of ballots they may agree to a simple majority of electors (58) to elect a Pope. The Europeans would have a decisive advantage in that case, and the odds for a caretaker increase dramatically. Thus, the longer the voting goes on, the more likely we are to see another old Italian in the See of Peter.

A list of the cardinal electors can be found here.


Written by martinipundit

April 19, 2005 at 9:47 am

Posted in Church

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