Papal succession speculation sweepstakes off and running
The papal succession speculation sweepstakes are truly off and running. The Paris daily Le Figaro started it shortly after Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States with an article saying he looked tired and pointedly mentioning possible successors. The Vatican promptly denied any health problems and veteran vaticanisti poured cold water on the story. While we mentioned this here on the blog, we haven’t done a story for the Reuters file because it’s way too early for such speculation. B16 looks like he’s in pretty good shape for 81.
But once the gates were open, two leading religion writers saw no reason to hold back. Henri Tincq, long-time religion correspondent for Le Monde in Paris, came out on Friday with a full-page portrait of the current favourite pick (here in French). The headline reads: Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, le cardinal tout-terrain (the all-terrain cardinal). Tincq starts off with an interesting lead: “There is no doubt that, if he is elected pope one day, he will allow cardinals and bishops to take the controls of a small plane or helicopter for their pastoral tours.” It seems he’s been told by the Vatican not to pilot aircraft anymore.
Tincq paints a lively portrait of the archbishop of Tegucigalpa who, apart from his religious vocation, is an amateur pilot, an accomplished musician (saxophone, organ, guitar, drums, double bass, marimba), speaks seven languages, has lobbied successfully for Third World debt relief and now heads Caritas Internationalis. And he’s only 65, meaning he has a long “window” of eligibility ahead of him.
The same day, John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter published “A possible papabile” (papal candidate). While Tincq wrote about Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras) and Figaro‘s Hervé Yannou mentioned Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (Italy) and Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Argentina), Allen threw a new name into the ring.
“The fact that the pope is 81 cannot help but stimulate that corner of the Catholic brain given to pondering the future, even if no one seriously believes that a transition is anywhere on the horizon,” he wrote. “For those looking around to see who might have the “right stuff” to be a future pope, a Vatican press conference this week regarding next October’s Synod of Bishops on the Bible took on a whole new level of significance. Among the presenters at the press conference was a man who strikes many church-watchers as a rising star: Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
Ravasi, an Italian, is tipped to be made cardinal at Benedict’s next consistory and take over the influential archdiocese of Milan next year when Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi reaches the retirement age of 75, Allen writes. He is also 65. Milan is considered such a springboard for the papacy that Tettamanzi was widely touted as a serious candidate in 2005 even though he apparently got only a few votes in the conclave.
Interestingly, this media speculation in French and English doesn’t seem to have made much impression in Latin America, if a Google search is any indicator (only the Vatican denial seems to have made it into papers like Argentina’s La Prensa or Folha de S. Paulo in Brazil). The analysis after the conclave that elected Benedict in April 2005 was that the Latin Americans could elect the next pope if they united behind one candidate. But one of the many Roman sayings about conclaves is that “he who goes in a pope comes out a cardinal.” Anyone hoping for the top post might actually not like all this attention…