Pope Wanted. Must Possess Magnetic Charm. And Grit.
By Laurie Goodstein and Daniel J. Wakin, NY Times, March 7, 2013
ROME—No candidate for pope can have it all. But the cardinals who will elect the next pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church seem to be looking for someone who combines the charisma of Pope John Paul II with the grit of what one Vatican analyst called, only slightly tongue in cheek, “Pope Rambo I.”
While it is too early to talk of front-runners, hints to the characteristics sought in a future pontiff can be discerned from the utterances of the cardinals who have spent the past week in meetings at the Vatican. Before Wednesday, when they stopped giving interviews, the cardinals frequently cited attributes the church now needs: a compelling communicator who wins souls through both his words and his holy bearing, and a fearless sheriff who can tackle the disarray and scandal in the Vatican.
Their focus on communication and good governance is in many ways an acknowledgment of the deficiencies of Pope Benedict XVI, who flew off in a helicopter to an unexpected retirement last week after a rocky eight-year tenure. But it is also a sign of the nostalgia for Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, a magnetic presence who commanded the spotlight on trips around the world and even as he lay dying.
On Benedict’s watch, the church lost sway in Europe, the United States and even Latin America. The central bureaucracy in Rome, the Curia, fell more deeply into dysfunction and even corruption. Cardinals from several countries commented this week that they were seriously troubled by recent reports in the Italian news media about a secret dossier that was given to the departing Benedict and was said to contain explosive evidence of sexual and financial blackmail. The confidential dossier is supposed to be shown to the next pope.
Few candidates come with the whole package of talents, and the Italian news media have even floated the notion that the cardinals are considering “tickets” that would pair a pastoral pope with a tough, savvy secretary of state who could act as an administrator and, if need be, enforcer.
The next pontiff may not need to execute a crackdown on Vatican infighting and misdeeds, but he must at least have the executive smarts to appoint a deputy fearless enough to confront the entrenched Vatican bureaucracy.
“The first thing he has to do is put greater order in the central administration of the Curia,” said Cardinal Edward Egan, the retired archbishop of New York. “He has to be willing to take criticism.”
And at the same time, “He has to be a man who understands the faith and can announce it in an attractive and uncomplicated way,” said Cardinal Egan, who voted in the conclave that elected Benedict, but is now just beyond the voting age limit of 80.
As of Thursday, all of the 115 cardinals eligible to vote and expected to come had arrived in Rome. But exactly when they will be locked into the Sistine Chapel to vote for the next pope remained uncertain. The cardinals have been meeting behind closed doors in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall every day this week, listening to one another speak about the challenges facing the church.
For those whose names have been circulated as “papabile,” or candidates for pope, the speeches serve in part as auditions.
The lag in scheduling the conclave indicated that the cardinals were still at the stage of assessing one another’s personalities, records and ideas, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, in a news media briefing on Thursday.
Any serious papal candidate has to be prayerful, theologically sound and fluent in Italian, the language of the Vatican and of Rome, which is, after all, the pope’s own diocese.
Several cardinals have also said that the next pope must have had experience as bishop of a diocese. That description would exclude some cardinals who have served most of their years in the Curia and those with little pastoral experience, like Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the erudite Italian whom Benedict gave the honor of preaching at the Vatican’s recent Lenten retreat.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, said in an interview, “Being a shepherd of a local church, I think, would be a very important factor if you’re going to be engaged in this idea of renewing the church spiritually.”
Several cardinals have also emphasized that a pope must be able to reach out to other faiths, improve relations with bishops around the world and forcefully present Catholic teaching.
Age is an important criterion, especially after the resignation of Benedict, who is 85. Many cardinals agree that the future pope would ideally be in his 60s, and Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier of South Africa narrowed the age to the early 60s. He suggested in an interview that it was time for a longer papacy, to carry forward efforts to strengthen the church.
In the past, it would have been unthinkable to have a serious papal contender from the United States, an economic and political superpower, but Vatican watchers say that for the first time ever, there is enthusiasm for two Americans who have both charisma and administrative strengths: Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, a garrulous presence, and Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, a Franciscan friar.
While it remains unlikely that either will become pope, largely because the United States is still perceived as a global superpower whose interests do not always dovetail so smoothly with those of the Catholic Church, this conclave is the first to break the taboo.
“For the first time Americans are even being considered—that’s the news,” said Marco Politi, a veteran Vatican watcher in Italy.