Twelve Cardinals to Watch

As a Franciscan friar he shares the love of simplicity and straight speaking. With a master’s degree in Catholic education and a PhD in Spanish and Portuguese literature he combined his learning and love of culture with an active ministry to the poor first in Washington DC and then in the Virgin Islands. As a member of Pope Francis’ reforming team, Cardinal O’Malley has emerged as a “Pope Francis Man” and would continue in his own way down the path established by Francis.

A rising star from Africa is Cardinal Robert Sarah from Guinea. Having served as secretary for the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples he was recently appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship. Known as a conservative and taking a strong stance against the advance of Islam in Africa and the Middle East, Cardinal Sarah could emerge as powerful leader in the growing tensions between Islam and Catholicism.

South Africa’s only cardinal is Wilfred Napier. He came to prominence last year during the Synod on the Family. When Cardinal Walter Kaspar made disparaging remarks about Africans it was brought to the attention of the pope that Africans were under represented on the steering committee for the Synod. Cardinal Napier was appointed and was then soon appointed as a member of the board overseeing Vatican finance. Napier was an outspoken critic of the Synod’s sometimes ambiguous terminology and emerged as a leader for critics of the synod’s methods

In my opinion a papal choice from Europe or Latin America is unlikely. Europe because the center of gravity in the Catholic Church is shifting to the developing world, and Latin America because they have “had their chance” in the pope from Argentina. Nevertheless, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the present prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also emerged from the Synod for the Family as a strong leader. Made a cardinal by Pope Francis in the 2014 consistory, Cardinal Muller would provide a European balance to Francis’ perspectives. Another strong candidate from Europe is Cardinal Peter Erdo from Hungary.

Finally, from Latin America, Cardinal Braz de Aviz of Brazil is seen as a “Latin American Ratzinger.” A strong opponent of liberation theology and an experienced theologian himself, he could seem a strong counter balance to Pope Francis’ more open ended and pastoral approach to theology. From Latin America’s most staunchly Catholic country comes Cardinal Francisco Rolbes Ortega. An advocate for the poor, he has taken a courageous stance agains the drug barons of his country and spoken clearly in defense of the family and the Catholic faith in the ongoing culture wars.

These are my twelve cardinals to watch in 2015. The excitement will start when this papacy draws to a close. Until then we pray and support the Pope Francis as he steers the barque of Peter through the present stormy seas.