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Could Cardinal Ouellet Be the Next Pope?

Fr Dwight Longenecker - published on 02/26/13

A Canadian, Cardinal Ouellet is fluent in six languages and has extensive experience in the curia

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One of the most attractive candidates for the papacy is Marc Cardinal Ouellet, a native of Quebec, Canada. Cardinal Ouellet will be 69 years old in June, and presently serves as Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. This puts him in charge of that part of the Curia which oversees the selection of bishops for dioceses around the world. 

Cardinal Ouellet is also in charge of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He previously worked in the Congregation for the Clergy and served as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In addition to being Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Commission on Latin America, he serves on a long list of other curial commissions, councils, and committees.

Academically, he’s no lightweight: He holds a licentiate in philosophy and a doctorate in dogmatic theology, and has spent much of his ministry teaching or being rector of seminaries. He’s associated with the prestigious theological movement Communio, and is fluent in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German.

Cardinal Ouellet is known for being conservative, but not a hardliner. As prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, he would have been involved in the promotion of bishops like Timothy Dolan to New York and Charles Chaput to Philadelphia.  

As a possible Pope, he would make an interesting choice – being a French Canadian, he shares in European culture in a way most North Americans do not, and yet he is from the New World. With his experience as a missionary in Latin America and as President of the Pontifical Commission on Latin America, he is experienced with the needs of the Church in the developing world. 

Cardinal Ouellet can hold his own intellectually. His Québecois origin provides a cultural bridge between the Old World  the New, and as a former missionary he has wide experience in the developing world. But what is he like as a person? Reporter John Allen says he is a deeply spiritual and sensitive man who is known to get emotional in public and hold his faith in a deep and personal way. He is witty and warm in private, but sometimes formal and stiff in public. 

With his academic mind and reserved nature, some suggest that he does not have the charismatic and dynamic personality necessary to communicate the Gospel in a world of instant news and global recognition. Critics say he was not able to turn around his Archdiocese of Quebec, as evidenced by the alarming decline of practicing Catholics in the region. If he couldn’t turn Quebec around, how would he be able to reverse the decline in the Catholic Church around the world?

Cardinal Ouellet has said that he does not covet the job and that “being pope would be a nightmare.” So add realism to his list of credits, but does his hesitancy indicate a weakness? Is he too nice to clean up the Curia and bring real reform to a system that is often archaic and defensive?

The problem with much of the criticism of Ouellet and the other cardinals is that it is based on a limited, secular, political model. Saying that a bishop did not “turn around” a diocese is comparing him to a CEO of a company making a loss. Observing that a man may be too weak to clean up the Curia neglects the fact that a Christian leader may clean up corruption more by his example of holiness than by strong-man tactics. 

Finally, and most important of all, secular critics of the various candidates are unaware of the inner dynamics of God’s providence. God knows better than journalists, and he knows more than the information on a man’s resume.

Because he knows a man’s inner qualities, God is able to take a few risks and pop a few surprises. Ouellet’s weaknesses may turn out to be his strengths and an Ouellet papacy could combine a sweet French spirituality and sensitivity with a sharp intellect, international perspective, and an inner strength of character that is expressed in a gentle, pastoral style.

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