On 12 March, a conclave of 112 Roman Catholic cardinals will gather in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel to elect a new, the 266th, Pope of Rome. Observers expect that the name of the new pope will be known before Catholic Palm Sunday (this year, on 24 March), or, at the latest, before Catholic Easter (31 March). Pope Benedict XVI Ratzinger retired on 28 February. He’s the first pope in the last 600 years who’s left the Fisherman’s Throne before his death. At present, Vatican watchers name five men as the most-probable winners of the upcoming papal conclave (all are cardinals):
- Marc Ouellet, PSS, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (Canadian) (born 1944)
- Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milano (Italian) (born 1941)
- Christoph Maria Michael Hugo Damian Peter Adalbert Graf von Schönborn, OP, Archbishop of Vienna (Austrian) (born 1945)
- Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches (Argentinian) (born 1943)
- Odilo Pedro Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo (Brazilian) (born 1949) (Italian newspapers said that his chances grew considerably within the last week)
However, it’s still hard to guess with certainty who will be the next Pope of Rome. Not long before his retirement, Benedict changed the procedure of electing a new pope. Aleksei Bukalov, a Russian expert on Vatican affairs, said, “The new conditions are very demanding. According to the amendments made by Benedict, a new pope needs a two-thirds majority of votes to win election. One should mention that Benedict’s predecessor John Paul II Wojtyła, contrariwise, simplified the procedure. According to the rules that he introduced, after a certain number of ballots, a new Pope could be elected by a simple majority of votes”. The amendments made by Benedict might hamper the process of electing a new pope… although, of course, there was an instance in the 13th century when it took three years for church leaders to elect a new pope… that’s unlikely to recur.
If none of the above-mentioned five candidates gets two-thirds of the votes, an alternative figure might arise, as it was in the case of Benedict’s predecessor John Paul II. During the elections for a new pope in October 1978, at first, no one predicted any serious chances for Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyła (John Paul II’s secular name). Many of his rivals seemed to have much better chances to win. However, Wojtyła won the election in the end. By the way, he was the first non-Italian in more than four-and-a-half centuries to ascend the papal throne.
Russian analyst Pavel Svyatenko said, “It’s practically impossible to predict now who’ll be the next pope. In fact, the list of the allegedly most-probable candidates isn’t very reliable. It’s quite possible that none of them would get enough votes, and the conclave would suggest an alternative candidate”. Judging by several statements by some of the cardinals who’d vote for the new pope, they’ve divided into two parties. Both parties recognise that the Roman Catholic Church needs a certain amount of modernisation, but one faction believes that only a person who knows life in Vatican very well “from the inside” would be able to reform the Church properly. However, others believe that the Church needs a leader who has no earlier links with the Vatican bureaucracy, and who, thus, would have a fresh, non-prejudicial, approach to the Church’s problems. Theoretically, according to Catholic canon law, any male Roman Catholic can become Pope of Rome, even if he’s never been a priest or a monk. However, since the 14th century, only cardinals have become popes.
10 March 2013
Voice of Russia World Service