Roman Bracketology

Roman Bracketology March 11, 2013

So it all comes down to this week, for Catholics. And in a at least one significant way, to Protestants as well, since the pope is arguably the central figurehead promoting religious freedom for all. Catholic performing artist Matt Maher issued a call last week for all Christians to pray about the conclave. I concur. Of course the response broke out into the standard Protestant-Catholic quibbles. Enough. As Benjamin Franklin asserted to his Declaration cosigners, “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves in discerning imminent doom. Suffice it to say that there may be some religious freedom issues ahead.

I was a wee lad when I learned of Pope Paul VI’s death, and have only the vaguest recollection of it. I don’t remember at all the conclave that ended in John Paul I’s September papacy, or the election of John Paul II that shortly followed it. Most of us of course recall the last one, in 2005. But these things don’t happen very often, on average.

In a previous post, I listed this baker’s dozen of names as likely candidates: Robles Ortega, Tagle, Dolan, Schönborn, Bozanic, Turkson, Braz de Aviz, Betori, Filoni, Gracias, Erdö, Pengo, and Onaiyekau.

I had my reasons and oddball permutations and criteria, and now it’s time to tweak that list a bit, pare it down to an Elite Eight, and wonder some more aloud. I will not pick a winner. I am confident, however, that I will be a winner. I’ll be content whatever the College of Cardinals conclude, confident that the Holy Spirit is behind it all, and resting in the notion that the Church will not fail, regardless of any particular papacy or scandal. (May there be fewer of the latter in the future.) So below I offer eight solid more-or-less likelys.

Having read far too much news about the matter, I emerge with a sense that there are 2-3 emerging interest groups (or power blocs, or whatever you want to call them), including those central to the Secretariat of State (led by Tarcisio Bertone), and those wishing to see considerable reform. The Americans appear to have their game face on, and are an organized bunch, so much so that they’ve been asked to stop giving press conferences, even though they most certainly are not the likely source of leaks.

And the leaks appear to be continuing, such that one most wonder—I will instead presume—that they either are intentional, aiming to shape the conclave’s decision-making toward some particular end, and/or that they will meet with a firm resolution to reform the sort of organization that seems to be foster more leaks than a cheap tent in a Florida summer shower.

I would suspect that the sum total of all this will be that the first vote could be a major eye-opener for the cardinals, revealing multiple interest groups. That may not be uncommon. What happens next, of course, will be fascinating but unknown.  Although a conclave’s machinations are supposed to be kept quiet under pain of excommunication—the grand-daddy of ecclesial punishments—re-creations of the last conclave’s dynamics suggest otherwise. And that was a pre-Twitter world.

Be that as it may, my guess is that the voting will likely conclude either late on Wednesday, March 13 or more likely on my dear wife’s birthday, March 14. That would be kind of cool for her. But if we awake on Friday to no new news, then that will signal more mystery still, at which point it’s time to toss the brackets and pray even harder.

I will wager nothing on the name of the next pope, although tradition holds that we’re probably due for another Pius here soon, if not a Gregory or a Clement. But tradition isn’t always hewed to, as John Paul I displayed in his use of the first dual name, or the resignation of Benedict XVI.

Now, on to Roman Bracketology. My Elite Eight include: Tagle, Braz de Aviz, Turkson, Ouellet, Dolan, Scherer, Ravasi, and Scola—all of whom have reasons why they might emerge as a favorite, and reasons why they won’t. My rector thinks it’ll be an Italian, and he’s been Catholic a lot longer than me. Since deference is nearly a Catholic virtue, I won’t think of suggesting he’s wrong. He does note, importantly, that speaking lots of languages matters a great deal here, and that some cardinals, like my beloved archbishop from New York, do not do that as well as some others. I see no obvious front-runner. Long-time student of the Vatican John Allen doesn’t either:

It seemed clear in 2005 that the opening rounds shaped up as a yes or no to Ratzinger. Today, while there are a number of figures perceived as plausible, there doesn’t seem to be a single point of reference.

Allen goes on to discuss four likely “camps” or—if not that organized—interests: governance, pastoral, Third World, and evangelical. In keeping with my rector’s inclination, Allen notes why a preference for an Italian may win out (and why it might not):

In the past, when cardinals would talk about “governance” it was often code for an Italian pope, on the assumption that Italians carry a special gene for ecclesiastical administration. The recent Vatileaks scandal, however, seemed to highlight the worst of petty Italian squabbles, and may have taken the edge off the preference for an Italian candidate.

And if relative youth and evangelistic outreach is valued, look to the thrilla from Manila. (He also speaks fluent Italian, which apparently is a near-must.) But there’s much more to this vote than youth and evangelism, especially since the former signals less extensive experience with governance and in Rome than is probably preferred.  Who knows? (Well, at least Someone does.)

Rest assured, however, that while selecting the next head of the Church is not about checking boxes and pleasing irritated apostates, the mainstream media thinks it is, and will quickly praise, then investigate, then pummel the next Holy Father for his ideological and geographical and ethnic shortcomings, whatever they are. Pay them no attention. Or as little as possible.

This will be an interesting and exciting week!


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