ROME, March 1, 2012 – The chair of Peter is empty. Joseph Ratzinger has left it with a clean break, and has left the future governance of the Church to a successor who is unknown to him, just as he is still unknown to the very cardinals who will elect him.
One cannot recall, in the last century, a previous conclave so much in the dark and so vulnerable to external and internal pressure.
But today it is the “fourth power,” that of the media, that is granting no truce to the cardinals called to conclave.
One of them has already fallen, the Scottish Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien. In one of his last acts as pope Benedict XVI expedited his resignation as archbishop of Edinburg, and he himself has announced that he will not go to Rome for the election of the new pontiff.
Another is former archbishop of Los Angeles Roger Mahony, censured by his own successor, José Horacio Gómez.
A third is former archbishop of Brussels Godfried Danneels.
For all three, the matters of accusation concern that "filth" against which pope Ratzinger fought his strenuous battle.
Mahony and Danneels have so far resisted expulsion, but within the college of cardinals their authoritativeness is already practically nil.
And yet, just a few years ago, the three were on the crest of the wave. Among the nine votes that Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the flagship candidate of the progressive cardinals opposed to the election of Ratzinger, received in the first scrutiny of the conclave of 2005, there were precisely those of O'Brien, Mahony, and Danneels.
Today almost nothing of this progressive current remains within the sacred college.
In addition to external pressures, however, pressures from within the Church are also acting on the pre-conclave.
The secret report that the three cardinals Julián Herranz, Jozef Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi delivered to Benedict XVI and only to him, and he in turn placed at the exclusive disposal of his successor, a report of which not even a line has been leaked out but is known to paint a worrying picture of the malfunctioning of the Roman curia, is weighing upon the conclave like a time bomb.
The selection of the new pope will be influenced by it, because the elect will be asked to carry out in short order that reform of “governance” which Benedict XVI left incomplete, on pain of plunging the Church into such institutional disorder as to obscure its ultimate and true mission: to revive the Christian faith where it has been weakened and to bring it where it has not yet arrived.
During the previous conclaves as well, the cardinals felt similar pressures.
In the two of 1978, those which elected as pope first Albino Luciani and then Karol Wojtyla, the cardinals were sent a dossier prepared by the Bologna-based “think tank” of Giuseppe Dossetti, Giuseppe Alberigo, and Alberto Melloni, including a detailed chapter on what the newly elect was supposed to do during the first “hundred days”: abolish the nunciatures, have bishops elected by their respective ecclesiastical regions, confer deliberative powers on the synod of bishops, institute at the summit of the Church a collegial body “that under the personal and effective presidency of the pope would at least on a bi-weekly basis address the problems that are facing the Church as a whole, making the relative decisions.”
The dossier even asked the new pope to “free himself from fear of the sexual revolution” and to innovate with decisiveness Christian morality in this field, but John Paul II did none of this.
In 2005 the Bolognesi returned to the fray, wagering on Cardinal Martini and reprinting their dossier in a book, but Benedict XVI as well, the elect, completely ignored it.
The cardinal electors will ask much less of his successor, in matters of governance. It will be enough that during the first hundred days he should begin a drastic reform of the curia. This time it will be difficult for the new pope to set this aside.
(Originally published by Chiesa on March 1st, 2013)