Page 6, 11th August 1978

11th August 1978
Page 6
Page 6, 11th August 1978 — Public opinion will influence conclave in its choice

Report an error

Noticed an error on this page?
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it.



Related articles

Cardinals May Elect An Outsider Of No Experience As The...

Page 3 from 18th August 1978

Contrasts On The Papal Throne

Page 10 from 7th August 1998

John Paul The Great: The Providential Pope

Page 6 from 17th October 2003

Loyal Critic's Last Word

Page 6 from 27th January 1995

Why It Could Now Be A Non-italian

Page 5 from 6th October 1978

Public opinion will influence conclave in its choice

by Peter Hebblethwaite

POPE Paul's succession has been discussed — planned, even — for the last five years. No doubt all would be much better employed in considering policies rather than discussing personalities.

What should be asked is what sort of Pope is needed for what sort of Church in what sort of world? And in fact this must be the first question to which the Cardinals assembled in conclave must address themselves.

For there is no obvious and outstanding candidate as there was in 1963, when Pope Paul VI was elected. Moreover, the job specification was much clearer last time: the task of the Pope was to conclude the Vatican Council and to implement it.

It is nothing like so simple today, when even the diagnosis of "what is needed" is hazardous and uncertain. It is a favourite Roman view, not unknown elsewhere, to say that since the Council the Church has fallen apart, been pulled this way and that by centrifugal forces.

Such cardinals, therefore, would want an energetic and centralising Pope, with possibly a curb on the Vatican's Ostpolitik and a halt to liturgical changes.

Others would argue that, on the contrary, Vatican II liberated the local Churches and stressed their legitimate autonomy. It is not more centralisation that is needed but less. As Pope Paul himself said in Octogesima Adveniens, it has become more and more difgeult to speak to everyone at once. Local Churches have to accept their responsibility.

Those who take this view would want an "enabler" as Pope rather than a centraliser. He would make more use of the Synod in the government of the Church. He would regard the Roman Curia as a useful secretariat rather than as an instrument of control.

He might voluntarily limit his prerogatives in the cause of ecumenism. Cardinal Basil Hume has evoked such a candidate in speaking of the Pope as "servant of unity" rather than its master.

The case for centralisation will be vigorously put by Cardinal Pericle Felici. He will be kingmaker rather than candidate. His entire life has been devoted to the rigours of Canon Law. Over the last 10 years he has been responsible for the codification of Vatican IL He believes in order and is cool on ecumenism.

He was popular enough as Secretary of the Council, and makes jokes in his fluent Latin. But he is intellectually too narrow to be Pope, and has the good grace to acknowledge the fact. He was at Pope Paul's right hand at the Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi blessing.

Another king-maker rather than candidate — at least this time round — is Cardinal Giovanni Benelli. Since, like Cardinal Hume, he is in his middle fifties, he is much too young to be considered for the job. He has not yet been a year in Florence, and still has to prove his pastoral ability.

But the main reason he can be discounted is that no one likes a long pontificate. A young Pope means a long pontificate, and that condemns the Church, after a certain time, to stagnation. Yet Cardinal Benelli, as someone who has been involved in every important decision of the last decade, will bc a forceful and active figure at the conclave.

If neither Benelli nor Felici are to be considered as runners themselves, one has to ask whom they might favour. Romans do not think that the guidance of the Holy Spirit means leaving things to chance. They have already thought about their candidate and prepared his discreet campaign.

The Curial contender is Cardinal Sebastian° Baggio, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. He was 65 on his last birthday. May 16. He has the right mix of International, pastoral and administrative experience. He has held Vatican diplomatic posts in Chile, Canada and Brazil. He did his pastoral stint as Archbishop of Sardinia, since when he has been responsible for episcopal appointments throughout the world.

Though not remarkable for great intellectual curiosity, he can be genial and knows how to charm. He has kept a low profile according to the 18th century maxim that the best way to advance is to do nothing while profiting from the occasions that present themselves.

But more recently there have been one or two disquieting signs that he is much too uncritical of dictators. He was wined and dined by President Marcos of the Philippines while priests and nuns were being tortured there. And his avowed interest in Latin America has sometimes meant assuring military governments that "liberation theology" would be held in cheek. He would therefore find Third World votes hard to come by.

It is much more difficult to suggest who might be the candidate of those who want an "enabling" Pope. By definition they are much less well organised. The European Cardinals who were the stars of the Council — Suenens, Konig and Willebrands — have lost some of their sparkle.

Suenens has fallen into the arms of the Charismatic Movement, Konig has been preoccupied with Eastern Europe, while Willebrands has had to struggle to re-establish the authority of the bishops in the Netherlands. In the cruel and expressive Italian phrase they are brucciati — burnt out eases whose best work lies in the past.

A possible candidate is Cardinal Sergio Pignedoli. He will be 68 next birthday. He is said to have been Pope Paul's candidate for the succession — but one thing a Pope cannot do is determine his successor. As President of the Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions he has jetted around the place and claims to have visited every country in the world. He keeps in touch with his countless friends by means of picture postcards.

The proof that he is a serious contender is that a whispering campaign was started against him in Rome. He was said to be "too light-weight" (no one ever bothered to define "heavyweight"). Much was made of his celebrated gaffe at Colonel Ghaddafi's Christian-Muslim dialogue in Tripoli in 1976. But it is hard to think of any Roman official who would not have fallen into the Ghaddati trap.

There is, however, a serious objection to Pignedoli. It is simp ly that he has been too close to Pope Paul and — temperament

aside — too closely resembles him. A Pignedoli pontificate would not be different enough. Though the style would be more outgoing, the substance would be the same. Thus to elect Pignedoli would be to miss the opportunity

to give the Church a fresh start in the last quarter of this century.

The same objection holds against most of Pope Paul's closest collaborators, especially the French Cardinals Jean Villot and Gabriel-Marie Garrone. It seems unlikely that they will stay on in Rome after the conclave.

They have done their work, and the new Pope will want a new team. They belonged essentially to the optimistic postconciliar period when France was still regarded as a source of theological ideas and pastoral initiatives. But transported to the international level, what was once known as the "French malia" has not performed very impressively.

Whether the next Pope will be an Italian is not a question one would expect the conclave formally to discuss. Everyone knows that the Pope does not have to be an Italian, and that he very probably will be an Italian.

One reason for this is that the Pope is, after all, the Bishop of Rome. If it is not his grandest title, it is his most fundamental one. And the city of Rome badly needs a bishop who speaks its language and knows its ways. A non-Italiah Pope would tend to be more the chairman of the multi national corporation called "Church Inc" than the Bishop of Rome.

But this difficulty could be overcome if the non-Italian in question spoke Italian and really knew Rome. He would also have to be from a Third World country, since there would be little point in exchanging an Italian for another European.

Here Cardinal Eduardo

Pironio could emerge. Argentinian-born of an Italian family of 20 children he has already disturbed the staider members of the Congregation of Religious, of which he is Prefect, by his unfussy ways, his sheer humanity and his reluctance to stick to desk work.

But he has the disadvantage of (relative) youth — he will be 58 next birthday — and so, once again, to elect him would be to embark on a long pontificate.

However, another Latin American who could be a candidate is Cardinal Aloisio Lorscheider of Fortaleza, Brazil. He is not popular with the Roman Curia but up to a point that might be an advantage in the conclave.

The Curia can now muster only 32 votes out of 120, which means in practice that though it cannot ensure the election of its own candidate, it can use its allies to block others whom it does not like.

That is why everyone is looking for a compromise outsider to break the deadlock. The dream is to find someone between or beyond the obvious division into "conservatives" and "modernisers". A prayerful Pope, it is said, would reconcile everyone.

. Cardinal Hume has already ruled himself out as a candidate. He said in a radio interview that the idea was "ludicrous, totally unrealistic — I haven't the right background".

A more likely-looking English speaker is Cardinal Joseph Corderio, Archbishop of Karachi, who was educated at Campion Hall. Though he too,

would claim not to possess the right background, he could be pressed to serve. He was 60 last January.

The lack of clear favourites suggests a longish conclave. It will take the form of a minicouncil in which the real needs of the Church are assessed.

It has a new feature compared with previous conclaves: the Cardinals will not come together this time as total strangers, they will already have met each other at Synods and the plenary meetings of various Roman bodies. Their views will not be unknown. This should make for a more serious exchange of ideas on the papacy itself.

This conclave will also be different in that it takes place in the new audience hall of the Vatican — a building described by Norman St John-Stevas as "hideous". And there will be none of those risky and misleading experiments with smoke.

A more important novelty — it is difficult to know how to put this — is that public opinion will weigh upon the conclave. Once conclaves had to fear the veto of princes, whereas now they must pay some attention to public opinion, which even Pius XII admitted had a right to exist in the Church.

There is no saying just how this factor will work — apart from excluding the totally untelegenic — but it means that you and I will be indirectly involved in the event.

The action of the Holy Spirit, Who has the last word and can surprise us all, is not magical and does not transcend these very human conditionines.

blog comments powered by Disqus