Cardinal Virtues

Cardinal Virtues March 11, 2013

With the cardinals assembled in Rome and the papal conclave set to begin tomorrow, my corner of the Catholic world, populated as it is by fellow ecclesial nerds, is all abuzz.  The shock waves caused by Benedict’s startling resignation seem to have built up to a sense of nervous excitement as we watch the cardinals themselves attempt to get their bearings for the direction of the Church.  With an abundance of speculations but no clear-cut favorite, there is a feel of anticipation in the air, of being at a moment in the life of the global Church where anything could happen.

Following the general buzz, I get a definite sense that the cardinals are feeling the weight of the task ahead of them, with an overwhelming tangle of priorities to balance out.  Veteran vaticanista John Allen (who, by the way, has written an impressively analyzed lineup of papabili profiles, each with several points for and against his chances of election) identifies four predominant ones, which he calls the “governance camp” (seeking a pope who can fix the problems in “the internal administration of the church, beginning with the Vatican itself”), the “pastoral camp” (seeking a pope who has “the capacity to heal internal rifts”), the “Third World camp” (seeking a pope “who can put a face on the burgeoning Catholic footprint outside the West”), and the “evangelical camp” (seeking a pope to lead the New Evangelization, with “a slightly more popular touch and a deeply missionary orientation”).  While he describes these “camps” in somewhat political terms, Allen takes care to note that “these are not overt blocs with platforms and spokesmen, but more like instincts circulating among cardinals that clash with some visions of the future and overlap with others.”  Indeed, his most important point here may be that “the borders among these camps are porous, and many cardinals would identify with more than one.”  In that regard, the “camps” that have been forming among the cardinals may be more like broad categories of overlapping concerns.

It seems the ideal pope in many cardinals’ minds would combine pastoral sensibilities, doctrinal soundness, and personal holiness, be a compelling face of the Church to advance the New Evangelization and a bridge figure to broker peace across geographical and ideological divisions, and possess the necessary fortitude to clean house in a Curia badly in need of reform.  Finding one among their ranks who combines all of these qualities is undoubtedly a tall order.

The latter concern is perhaps the weightiest, since it lies on a deep fault line in the Church, including within the college of cardinals.  Everything I’ve heard about Vatican politics suggests an ongoing, drawn-out battle between the Italians and everyone else.  While it would probably be a tad oversimplified to portray this conclave as Italy vs. the world, it does on some level appear to be shaping up to be a showdown between the curial cardinals and all the rest.  Some have suggested this is already playing out in the tension between the “Vatican-based cardinals” who “want to get everything over with quickly” and many others who feel the need for more time to become acquainted and discern their priorities.

As the cardinals were still gathering last week, Fr. Anthony Ruff, a liturgical scholar and professor of mine, playfully suggested that the reason the German cardinals were taking their time getting to Rome might have something to do with the “ecclesiological, not to say political aspects behind the decision of when to begin the conclave.”  He summarized the above speculation this way:

The word on the street is that the curial cardinals in Rome favor an early start date because this gives them more ability to control the process. The Romans (whatever their nationality) know all the cardinals from around the world (from their visits to headquarters) and so are in the best position to orchestrate campaigns for favored candidates. But a later start date allows the cardinals from Everywhere Else to get to know each other better and take charge of the thing.

In any case, I take immense hope from the strong and consistent impression that the cardinals are taking the whole process very seriously, doing their best to take the time they need to get to know each other, sounding each other out and weighing priorities according to the needs they perceive in their own corners of the world and in the Church universal.

There are still a few factors in the coming conclave that make me nervous.  I am nervous about the potentially powerful sway of a curial bloc, and I am nervous about the surprising amount of traction the American cardinals seem to be getting (a curial takeover and a modern-empire papacy being the two most disastrous possible outcomes in my view).  But I am heartened by the earnest and prayerful approach that I see reflected, for example, in this Catholic News Service video in which a few cardinals express their own sentiments on what they are about to undertake.

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (starting at 2:12) movingly describes the “big cenacle of prayer” that goes on continuously during a conclave, adding that this is “how an election should be: … in an atmosphere of prayer and not only in political criteria.”  Wilfrid Napier, Cardinal Archbishop of Durban, South Africa (starting at 2:41), noting the “excitement” as well as “anxiety” that is present, remarks,

Probably the most solemn, the most difficult [moment], frightening, is when you go with your ballot paper in your hand and hold it up in front of the altar and say, “I call on the Lord Jesus, who will be my judge, to witness that I am voting for the one I believe to be worthy.”  That’s really a moment of intense emotion, faith – all these emotions come together at that point.  If I’m voting for unworthy reasons, I’m actually asking Jesus to judge me, condemn me in other words.  So it’s a very, very solemn moment.

Clearly, the college of cardinals is collectively feeling the solemnity of the occasion as they prepare to begin the conclave.  Let us pray along with them: Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

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  • A fantastic summation, Julia. I, too, have been following Mr. Allen’s profiling and have been quite impressed with his portrayal of the papabili (although some of my friends were upset he didn’t mention Burke in his “American papabili” post).

    I think I also react poorly to the idea of an American pope, at least initially, but I’ve started to reconsider the possibility. I think there are certainly drawbacks, but perhaps it isn’t as dire an outcome as I first assumed. Can you share why you think it would be the worst case scenario?

    • Julia Smucker

      First of all, for the same reason many reporters have cited for why it has always been unlikely: many of the world’s cardinals are hesitant to elect a pope from a “superpower” state, and with good reason. It would smack too much of ecclesial entanglement with empire, and I’d like to think the Church knows better than that by now. America is trying to run the world too much already; we don’t need the papal throne to boot.

      Secondly, the Church in the US has too much baggage, being steeped in a toxically polarized political atmosphere and having a tendency to get excessively worked up over ecclesial matters down to the minutiae. We don’t need to go inflicting our issues on the whole global Church, which is what I fear would happen if an American were elected.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      The Italian Vaticanista Sandro Magister has been touting the chances of Dolan. He makes a good case (though not an overwhelming one) that the recent battles between Obama and the American hierarchy suggest that an American pope would not be the beginning of an ecclesial empire.

      To his credit, I think Dolan has the backbone to reform the Curia; the problem would be with so many Americans embedded in it (Burke, Levada), if he would have the will.

      • Yeah but I really don’t think the problem in the Curia is Burke or Levada or any American really.

    • Brian Martin

      I agree, a very thoughtful presentation of the situation.

  • I’m not sure why an American Pope still scares some people.

    There was a time when American bishops were tainted with “Americanism” and to elect an American Pope would have been to “give” the Superpower the power of the papacy.

    This is no longer true. American bishops are now very much at loggerheads with American culture and government, and as such possibly represent the potential to act as a potential “balance” to the power of the American government and a powerful voice for critiquing the Empire from within and dividing Americans loyalties AGAINST their own hegemony.

    I, for one, don’t want a Pope who is merely something like “Secretary General of the United Nations,” a position which (for its very “diversity”) is largely neutered and unable to have real “teeth.”

    Americans are somewhat more savvy when it comes to modern communication. They also have the benefit, for being Americans, of a powerful and wealthy (compared to Catholic leaders in the rest of the world) “network” of supporters whose power and money (while potentially corrupting, yes) could be used strategically by a future Pope (including AGAINST American imperialism).

    Peter went to Rome exactly BECAUSE it was the heart of the Empire. Maybe now Peter needs to go to New York (or Washington DC, or better yet Boston…)

    • Brian Martin

      I am not so sure that one can simply say that the American Bishops are at loggerheads with the American Culture and the Government so much as with aspects of said culture and government. I think one can easily get a sense of American Exceptionalism if one listens to their political rhetoric. I agree with A Sinner in principle in regard for the need for a Pope who will be against American Imperialism…and I find the last statement about Peter going to Rome as the heart of the empire and drawing the comparison to a Pope from the US interesting, however I’d like to take that in a different direction. Perhaps what we need is Peter coming from outside the Curia and going to the heart of the (Catholic) Empire, and shaking things up in Rome. (Curia)

      • Julia Smucker

        That sense of exceptionalism is a big part of the concern that I was trying to name in referring to the baggage that we have in the US. There’s this tendency to project the American experience, with all our American “issues” (and we have a way of making everything an issue), onto the whole world – and that’s not just among the bishops, but they are breathing this atmosphere just like the rest of us.

        I can respect someone like Cardinal Dolan, who I think is unfairly caricatured at times, but I don’t necessarily see him rising above that kind of projection.

      • It’s hard to have it both ways. If America isn’t “exceptional”…then how come it’s being distinguished as the ONE place a Pope absolutely should NOT come from?? That’s a form of American Exceptionalism too, in its way.

        I don’t think the US bishops buy into a mystical “God chose us!” exceptionalism like the Republican evangelical fundamentalists. But I think they are smart enough to realize that PRACTICALLY speaking, the very fact of being Superpower makes one “exceptional” in a very real way.

        But not necessarily in a “pushing America’s agenda” or “let’s be myopic to everyone else’s problems” sort of way. Popes come with their own culture. So be it. At least our culture seems to influence ALL cultures, whereas they do not all significantly influence us. A Pope who influences American culture IS thus, by definition, influencing World Culture. That couldn’t necessarily be said for Third World countries.

        • Julia Smucker

          That’s just the thing: American culture has too much influence in the world already. Someone else deserves a voice. And it would be much more gospel-like for the Church to be headed by someone from a less influential part of the world.

        • See, I don’t think it’s the Pope who gives a voice to a culture, but rather the culture which gives a voice to the Pope, as it were.

          In other words, the number of people who will receive a message being shouted in a crowd will depend on how common is the language the speaker is speaking in already.

          Take English. You might say “English is common enough among the powerful, we don’t need an English-speaker as Pope too!” But if you pick a Pope who speaks Navajo, he won’t reach many people. It’s exactly because English is understood so widely that we need a Pope who speaks English.

          Likewise with American Culture. It’s the cultural lingua franca, as it were, but many high Church leaders seem woefully tone-deaf and illiterate in it except to view it with a certain disdain. And yet it’s what so many people in the world “speak” (even when it isn’t their “native tongue.”)

          Yes, someone from another native language CAN speak English, and recent Popes are an example linguistically. But still not as well as a native. Likewise with culture.

          • Julia Smucker

            If your main priority is influence, leveraged by temporal power if need be, then I follow your reasoning, but I do not find that consistent with the Church’s true mission. Once again it comes back to humility, and America does not tend to represent humility on the global stage.

        • But Julia, by what criteria do you say a culture has too much (or too little) influence? What if the Holy Ghost *does* influence the electors towards a “Superpower pope”? Is the Holy Ghost being unfair to those not elected? That just seems a little silly to me. God will go where He pleases, no?

          • Julia Smucker

            Of course the Spirit blows where it will, and I try to be open to the possibility that the Spirit has different ideas than I do. But frankly, I find it impossible to believe in a God who would want a “Superpower pope” as such. A particular person despite that fact, maybe I could accept, with time.

  • Kurt

    I agree that the optics of an American pope are great enough to cause the conclave to look elsewhere. It would be a distraction to have to explain too many things. And beyond the optics, there is a real anti-American prejudice that further makes it unlikely.

    But while I admit it “looks bad” and there is prejudice against Americans, I don’t buy into the false notion that any of the American cardinals are in fact a front for the CIA or “the Empire.” Each of them have their strong and weak points (well, I can’t actually think of any strong points of Burke) but they are their own men and not agents of the United States or some silly, devilish image of the United States.

  • Brian Martin

    Thought you might like to pick your own pope:
    I have narrowed my choice down to 3…Christoph Schonborn, Luis Tagle, and Sean Patrick O’Malley…but then, this aint a democracy, is it…
    however, the Pope does not have to be a Cardinal, right? What about Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

  • Who is Pope no longer matters in the Catholic Christian West. Let
    Gary Wills instruct you on that

    Whoever he is, most thinking Catholics in the developed world are going to ignore most of what he says. Popes Wojtylwa and Ratzinger assured that most of the cardinals are intellectual drones, faceless and conformist bureaucrats, who lack sufficient faith to dare to attempt to bring an archaic religious institution into engagement with amodern theatre of ideas.

  • Julia Smucker

    I thought that one off-hand comment might get some blowback, and here it is from all sides. This is not about Obama, and it’s not about any weird conspiracy theories about the cardinals and the CIA. It’s primarily about seeing the worldwide Church through the filter of American experience, and for the reasons I mentioned above, a person with such a view on the papal throne is the last thing the world needs right now.

    That’s not to say that such a filter is always a bad thing: the experience of Catholics in the US, having long been a despised minority, has at times been a real gift to the Church, particularly at Vatican II where the US bishops played an instrumental role in the promotion of religious freedom. But at the same time, throughout that history of marginalization, there has been an impulse toward collective upward mobility which I’ve been struggling to understand. I take a sort of pride in being Catholic in a historically Protestant country and am inclined to see the despised minority experience in our history as a sign that we were getting something right – or at least a valuable learning experience for our Church. But I recognize that this is more of an Anabaptist outlook than a Catholic one. I get the sense that many American Catholics, of all stripes, are hoping for an American pope as a sign that we have somehow “arrived”, that we Catholics have found our place in the American sun. It’s my struggle with that catholicizing impulse – one might call it a collective libido dominandi – with the underlying assumption that the State (and the world?) is always better off when the Church is running the show, that is at the heart of my profound discomfort with the idea of an American pope.

    Oh, and let’s not forget that when Peter went to Rome – into “the heart of the Empire” – he was given not a throne but a cross.

    • Oh that’s what this one will get too.

      I just think Americans know how to get things DONE. I get the sense that the Cardinals from all the other countries are basically glorified “diplomats.” The US has that tendency too in its bishops, but less so. We need a Leader. I don’t see so many leaders in the Cardinals, I see a lot of diplomats. I don’t want a Pope who is “Chief Diplomat” in the world, or a position like the head of the EPA being put in the President’s cabinet (there as a token). And I don’t see many outside Americans having the personality to get things done. There is something to be said for how “straight-shooting” Americans are. No bull. The genius of a CEO, etc.

  • Jordan

    Julia, an excellent and objective analysis as usual.

    There’s another angle to the conclave which requires some consideration. I’ll confess to obsessing over which potential pope might overturn Summorum pontificum. So far, my tea leaves don’t suggest that any of the papabili will cancel the motu. Curial reform alone will take an immense effort to effect. Besides, half of the papabili or more have already placed FSSP or similar parishes in their diocese.

    Many of us, regardless of our self-identified place on the liturgical spectrum, hold some apprehension about which way the liturgical tug-of-war of the past fifty years will pull with a new pope. Yet, would I want a pope to have a full papal Tridentine Mass but do nothing about the scandals, curial mismanagement, and tone-deafness of certain curial and Vatican officials towards other religions and the “unchurched”? Certainly not, even if I must return to the “catacombs” of the indult period.

    This year’s gospel for Laetare Sunday in the OF is the Prodigal Son. I often wonder if we who practice our faith are often similar to the older son, who tried to squeeze everything out of (God the) Father even after the Father had given all that he had to his younger son. The Father’s forgiveness and love often appears in miraculous and unseen ways, even if we do not receive exactly what we desire or even if God cannot give us what we want for reasons our mortal minds cannot grasp. So is the same with a new pope and his shepherding of the Church. Much of what laypersons understand about the mechanics of the Church’s governance is opaque and counterintuitive, but perhaps ultimately beneficial for our faith and well-being.

    • The liturgical question is my greatest fear too. There was a time I would have rooted for, say, Ranjith for exactly this reason. He’d say the Old Mass as Pope for sure at some point (maybe more than once!) But now I think that question has to take a back seat to administrative and pastoral reform, as long as Summorum Pontificum’s status quo remains.

    • Jordan

      The fact that we liturgically traditional Catholics have to fear the shifting winds of each conclave is one reason why I often wished Pope Benedict would have given the Tridentine faithful a sui juris church and a major archbishop. However, in other respects Pope Benedict was wise to keep traditionalism under the banner of the Roman rite. If we traditionalists were to receive a sui juris church, we could become perpetually walled off ritually and culturally from the Roman rite (that is, those who follow the modern liturgy). I know I must maintain charity with my modern and progressive brothers and sisters through the interregnum and beyond. This can be trying at times, especially when progressive liturgists slam traditional worship and piety. How many times have traditionalists sneered at progressive liturgy? The disdain travels both ways. Maybe the new pope can attempt a degree of reconciliation.

      In my opinion, a petition for sui juris is only justifiable if a pope annuls Summorum pontificum. Even then, I believe that cardinals such as Burke and Ranjith could step in and avoid a split. Have faith that the Roman rite can have unity in diversity.

  • Chris Sullivan

    I think the view outside the US is very much that the US Bishops are far too closely aligned with US Imperialism. Where were the US Bishops energetically and vigorously opposing imperial war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and its use of torture, and organising opposition to it ?

    Can anyone imagine any US Cardinal as energetically opposing the invasion of Iraq as JP2 did ?

    God Bless

    • At least they still opposed it. Admittedly, not “so energetically.” But they didn’t SUPPORT it. Maybe if they had a broader pulpit and more power (ie, as Pope) they could afford to be more “energetic” about such things!

  • Ronald King

    I desire a Pope who is willing to give up his life for those who suffer. He would leave Rome to join and care for the suffering. He would have the empathy and nurturing, for example, of Our Mother when she appeared as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Change that is worthwhile can only be the result of a sacrificial Love which is doing the unexpected, leaving the known and going into dark and dangerous places where Love is most needed and where Faith is truly expressed.

    • Ronald,

      Why that is a pious sentiment, laudable in its own way, in perfect concert with the political moralism that would turn religion into little more than gestures of solidarity…
      …if the pope were to leave Rome and join the care for the suffering full time, well, might one call that resignation? It would mean, wouldn’t it, that he’s not interested in doing the job? But some other job?

      The Church has a “division of labour” for a reason. What you’re touting is really nothing more than a dramatic symbolic gesture that doesn’t clearly move the Church in any direction.

      Imagine the President, upon election, straight away renounced the White House and said he would spend his administration living in an inner city ghetto.It might be laudable personally, but what would it accomplish in terms of the governance of the society?

      God willing, many more will be called to a life dedicated to the care of the sick and poor. I’m not denigrating that. In a way, I think this “Pope should sell everything he owns and live with the poor” attitude is just the reverse of the Ultramontane papal idolatry. It still imagines the Pope as the pinnacle of the Church, as the supreme living symbol of the Church’s life. That’s too big a burden for one man to take. He is only the visible sign of the Church’s unity, he is not in flesh all the Church ought to be.

      While a pope should be both willing to give up his life and to suffer, it’s not clear to me why that should entail a kind of vague “going into the dark unknown” that usually implies the dismantling of the office in the name of Christian practices of charity to which that same office was never in any sense opposed and actually tries to foster.

      • Ronald King

        Jordanstfrancis, My statement is based on a radical change from the history which has brought the Church to this point in time and awareness of how beliefs, behaviors and expectations are formed in human development through the observation of significant others throughout life. The Pope is one of those significant others who is in the position of influence as to how we practice our faith either consciously or unconsciously. He already carries the burden as the living symbol of the Church’s and God’s relationship to humanity. Everything he expresses will influence how God and the Church are perceived. Going into the darkness is vague because it would involve the Pope actually leading the Church in ways which are different from the expected ways of other leaders.
        You wrote, “The Church has a “division of labour” for a reason. What you’re touting is really nothing more than a dramatic symbolic gesture that doesn’t clearly move the Church in any direction.” We have many dramatic gestures in our liturgy and traditions which create the expectations of beliefs and actions which have already created confusion about the Church’s direction. It is a reality that the whole world is now focused on the election of a new Pope which indicates the significance of influence inherent in that position. True humility is not a symbolic gesture, it is a way of life in which the greater seeks out the lesser wherever she/he may be to give what is needed to alleviate their suffering. Those who have the most visibility and influence carry the responsibility to live a life which models their beliefs and the Pope’s life is based on Jesus’ life. How the Pope demonstrates his faith will influence how the world views the Church, but, more importantly, what the world believes about Christ.

      • Ronald King

        Amen to Francis I

  • Mark VA

    Excellent article, Ms. Smucker. It’s fun to speculate who the next Pope will or should be, as long as we don’t invest too much in such musings. We’ll know soon. In the meantime, I found George Weigel’s article on conclave “microculture” a delightful piece of historical whimsy:

  • Kurt

    Well, maybe the “America haters” here can comment about what the new pope should do with Catholic Relief Services. CRS, which operates in nearly 100 countries and connecting with 100 million people, is not an agency of the universal Church (that would be a different organization, “Caritas”) but a project of the American church and is mostly funded by the United States government. An agent of American imperialism?

  • Kurt

    “I don’t know if you’ve checked lately, but — the Conference of Catholic Bishops here in the United States don’t seem to be takin’ orders from me.”

    — President Obama, responding to a question from ABC’s George Stephanopoulos about whether an American pope would be seen as too close to the U.S. government, ABC, 3/13.

    • Julia Smucker

      Right, but as I said, this is really not about Obama. Just the fact of the question arising as to whether an American pope would act as a platform for American governmental interests would seem to indicate that the world is not ready for an American pope.

      Part of my concern, too, is that a US cardinal enmeshed in home-front politics would continue to filter Church teaching through the one-dimensional US political binary. Is that really the kind of papacy we want?

      • Kurt

        I can accept the sad reality that prejudices cut out any American candidate for the papacy. I’m not going to pretend that prejudice against a person’s national origin is a virtue.

  • Dante Aligheri

    Habemus Papam!