Meet the Papabili: A Handy Guide to the Popefuls of Conclave 2013

As you likely already know (especially if you follow this blog, as it’s just about all I can think about right now) the papal election is only a day away. It’s probably about time we take a look at the front-runners before we Roman Catholics head to the polls. Oh, right, I forgot. We don’t get to pick our leader.

Be that as it may, I know that when I’m standing in that crowd of 100,000 or more people in St. Peter’s Square, waiting for the name of the new pope to be announced, I’m going to want to know whether to cheer with abandon and hope for the future of the church, or shake my head and think, “More of the same…”

After my last two mega-posts (particularly yesterday’s ridiculous 3,162-word tome that took me nearly literally the entire day to write), my solicitous maritino tactfully suggested that if I wanted my readers to actually read my posts (all the way through), I’d do best to consider shortening them just a tad. And as unpleasant as it is to admit your spouse is right, I think he is. Now, if I had a typical Italian husband, this is where I’d probably insert a joke about him only being concerned that my over-zealous blogging was preventing me from preparing his beloved nightly pasta. No, dearest bloglings, not even a hint! Yes, I got one of the good ones, but more on that another time (definitely after conclave).

So back to our friendly cardinals, one of who will have, in just a few days, the power to change the world. In Italian, a cardinal who is considered a strong candidate for the papacy is called a papabile (plural: papabili), literally pope-able. Frankly, I prefer Stephen Colbert’s term, “Popeful.”

Out of the 115 cardinal-electors participating in conclave this year, there are according to some up to 30 papabili, although for reasons mentioned above, I will be writing a much more abbreviated list.

Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy. Archbishop of Milan.

Card. Scola is the clear front runner for this race. He’s got what some people consider the perfect combination of an Italian with tons of experience, and yet someone who has never actually worked inside the Vatican, so he can’t be blamed for the recent mismanagement of the Church. 

Out of all the others, he is the cardinal considered most likely to gain the 2/3 majority. But in Rome there is an expression, “He who goes into a conclave a pope, comes out a cardinal.” So maybe we shouldn’t bet on Scola yet. (Although he’s being given excellent odds with the bookies in town!) What could go against him: his name was dropped in the Vatileaks scandal last year as someone who should replace Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri of Argentina.

Prefect for the Congregations of the Eastern Churches.

A few weeks ago, I predicted Card. Sandri for pope, and I still think he has a good shot, but in recent weeks, it’s seeming less likely. No one seems to be talking about him. Still, to me, on paper, Sandri is the ideal candidate. He covers all the bases for what it is believed the cardinals are looking for in the future pope: as a South American he has a deep understanding of the church outside Europe, but he has also spent most of his life in Italy and has worked as an high-level administrator in the Vatican. He proved himself as a good organizer when he worked directly under John Paul II. What could go against him: he could be blamed for the poor organization in the Vatican of recent years (although he left his previous position several years ago).

Cardinal Séan Patrick O’Malley of the United States. Archbishop of Boston.

If Card. Sandri is who I think could become pope, Card. O’Malley is who I hope will become pope. I was first introduced to him by Patricia Thomas on her wonderful blog, Mozzarella Mamma, which I have mentioned several times lately. Read her post on him, as she is a fan as well, for much more insight than I could hope to give. I just have a gut reaction to O’Malley. First of all, he’s a monk, and you can’t get much humbler than that. He shuns the Cardinal red and instead wears a simple cassock and hood of a Capuchin as he goes about his business here in Rome. He took over in Boston after the Bernard Law fiasco, and has worked tirelessly advocating for the victims of sex abuse by priests. What could go against him: he is well known for his reputation as a reformer, and the big Italian bloc inside the Vatican curia will do anything to keep him from becoming pope and challenging their status quo. But miracles can happen!

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the United States. Archbishop of New York.

Card. Dolan is an energetic powerhouse of a cardinal, and despite being a dreaded American, he is generally well liked by the Italian faction. The Italian paper La Repubblica calls him a “shadow candidate,” as he could be a potential compromise candidate for the two opposing factions, being called the Romans vs. the Reformers. While certainly not as change-hungry as O’Malley, Dolan has acknowledged that the church is in crisis and some reform is necessary. What I like about him is that he gets things done. He prefers to do things himself, instead of delegating them to others, which can only be a good thing. What could go against him: he is seen by some as “too American,” with little understanding of the rest of the world, and very poor foreign language skills.

Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of Brazil. Archbishop of Sao Paolo.

There has been lots of talk lately about this Brazilian candidate of German descent. He is highly favored to be elected, particularly because of his close ties with those in power in the Vatican curia. But my mother always said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” so… Next!

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines. Archbishop of Manila.

I’d like to imagine a Roman Catholic Church in which a man like Cardinal Tagle could be elected. Vatican expert John L. Allen says that if the cardinals’ first priority were to have a pope who would be a moving, rousing evangelizer, capable of “setting people on fire with enthusiasm for the faith, and if they wanted that evangelizer to come from outside the West," Tagle would be the obvious choice. He is only 55 years old, and widely considered the most charismatic and dynamic candidate, and is also admired for his simplicity and humility, (he gets around only by bike or on public transport). What could go against him: there are very few electors from Asia, and without a strong faction behind him, he will have a hard time gaining the 2/3 majority. He also is very unfamiliar with the workings of the Vatican. (Or maybe that’s a good thing?)

Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada. Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

Card Ouellet’s combination of fierce intellect, near-fluency in six languages, and several years of missionary experience in Colombia makes him a very interesting candidate for pope. To that he combines years of experience inside the Vatican. What could go against him: He is said to radiate prayerfulness and spirituality, which you would think would be ideal characteristics in a pope, but some think he might be overlooked because his inherent goodness might make it difficult for him to make the tough decisions that inevitably await a pope.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Austria. Archbishop of Vienna.

John L. Allen, in his series of articles, Papabile of the Day, the Men who could be Pope, describes Card. Schonborn as “either an obvious, slam-dunk contender or somebody who's basically taken himself out of the running.” He’s something of a wild card, and not the most diplomatic of cardinals, but he has spoken out strongly against the sex abuse issues inside the church (he, along with Card. Tagle, are the only two papabili not implicated in any way in any of the sex abuse cover-ups). In fact, he stirred up more than a little trouble with Secretary of State Bertone and some other big-wigs in the Vatican curia, and he is definitely not in their good books. This might just work in his favor for those cardinals who are desirous of a change to the “old guard” and looking for someone who has no qualms about standing up to his opponents. What could go against him: those very same big-wigs will stop at nothing to prevent him from becoming pope, as they would probably all lose their cushy positions. Perhaps even more damning, the situation in Austria is a mess, which makes it look like he’s lacking in the all-important organizational and administrative department.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. President for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Getting the number three best odds with bookies is the friendly, popular and dynamic Card Turkson, the most likely out of all the African candidates. Turkson is favored both for his long pastoral experience of 17 years in the the diocese of Cape Coast, and for his administrative skills, proven in his current post. In addition, he conveniently answers the desire for a pope to represent the most growing Catholic population, yet without being an outsider. Another plus is his advocation for Catholic/Muslim relations, a very timely plus on his resume. What could go against him: a few recent shenanigans have asked many to question his judgement. He once showed biased and already discredited YouTube video on Muslim immigration in Europe at a synod, he has made questionable remarks linking homosexuality with pedophilia, and some claim he is unabashedly campaigning for the papacy (posters with his face mysteriously appeared around Rome with the words "Vota Turkson").

Whoever is elected in the coming days (or weeks?), I think just having so many far flung countries represented on this list is a very good sign for the future of the Church. But what about you? Who do you think will be the next pope? Someone on this list or one of the number of other papabili? I’d love to hear who you’re predicting and why, so please leave a comment!

PS If you want to take a more active role in this conclave, you can adopt your very own cardinal! I’m not kidding. This website will assign you a cardinal-elector at random to pray for during conclave. Over 200,000 people have already signed up.

More conclave posts: 

A Short* History of Conclave

How Conlave works: all the Rules and Rituals of the Papal Election

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