The new Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola, automatically leaps to the top of the list.
NCR’s John Allen has a very good overview of the man he calls the “new Crown Prince of Catholicism”:
Among insiders, he was already considered an ecclesial heavyweight and top-tier future prospect.
Yet Milan is, well, sui generis. It’s one of a handful of pace-setter dioceses, such as Paris or Westminster or New York, whose occupant automatically is a worldwide point of reference. It’s also the premier see in the Italian church, and given the special relationship between Italy and the papacy, it’s probably fair to say that most popes view Milan as among the most important appointments they’ll ever make.
As a result, Milan isn’t just a job — it’s a unique vote of papal confidence, and a platform for global leadership. Church-watchers usually assume that when a pope sends someone to Milan, he’s pointing him out as a possible successor. Benedict XVI is no naïf; he’s aware of that calculus, which means that at a minimum, he has enough confidence in Scola to put him in a place where the papacy is a live possibility.
From now on, Scola will be the lead paragraph of every speculative piece about the next conclave, and everything he does or says will be scrutinized with one eye toward a papal election…
To this day, Scola’s interests range remarkably wide. For instance, he says that by far his favorite book is the modernist novel The Man Without Qualities, by the early 20th century Austrian writer Robert Musil. Set amid the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the book is often compared to works by Franz Kafka and Thomas Mann — certainly not, in other words, the usual pious fare.
In terms of temperament, Scola is more of a “hail fellow well met” than Benedict XVI. Among other things, he has a keen media savvy. Scola’s top media aide, a laywoman named Maria Laura Conte, is well-known among the Vatican press corps for her cheery and proactive style, often volunteering to make her boss available — a striking contrast to the wariness with which many prelates and their minions view the press.
Across political and theological divides, Scola has a reputation for being un-clerical, unpretentious, and not at all aloof. In Venice, for instance, he set aside Wednesday mornings to meet anyone who wanted to see him, whether or not they had an appointment.
Over the years, Scola’s priorities as a leader have also tended to be fairly ad extra, meaning engaged with the world outside the church. One signature cause has been his “Oasis Foundation”, launched in 2004 to promote solidarity among Christians in the Middle East and dialogue with the Islamic world.
There’s much, much more. Read on.
UPDATE: The irrepressible Max Lindenman has some choice thoughts on Cardinal Scola, including this:
I just happen to think convivial Tuscans with pinchable cheeks make the best popes.