ROME, March 7, 2013 – The easiest bet is that the next pope will not be Italian. But not European, African, or Asian ether. For the first time in the bimillennial history of the Church, the successor of Peter could come from the Americas. Or to hazard a more targeted prediction: from the Big Apple.
Timothy Michael Dolan
, archbishop of New York, 63, is a larger-than-life man from the Midwest with a radiant smile and overflowing vigor, precisely that “vigor of both body and mind” which Joseph Ratzinger recognized he had lost and defined as necessary for his successor, for the sake of properly “governing the barque of Peter and proclaiming the Gospel.”
In Benedict XVI's act of resignation there was found already the title of the program of the future pope. And many cardinals were quickly reminded of the visionary vivacity with which Dolan developed precisely this theme
, with his “primordial” Italian, his words, but scintillating, at the consistory one year ago, when he himself, the archbishop of New York, was preparing to receive the scarlet.
It was a highly criticized consistory, that of February 2012. For weeks, scorching documents had been flying out of Vatican offices and even from the ultra-private desk of the pope to spill out in public the covetousness, disputes, misdeeds of a curia adrift.
And yet, among the nine cardinals created by Benedict XVI, a good number were Italian, were of the curia, and worse, were tied with a double thread to the secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone, universally believed to be the main culprit of mismanagement.
Pope Joseph Ratzinger adjusted his aim a while later, in November, with six more cardinalate appointments all from outside of Europe, including that of the rising star of the Church of Asia, the Filipino with Chinese mother Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle
But the fracture remained intact. On one side the feudal lords of the curia, in strenuous defense of their respective centers of power. On the other the oecumene of a Church that no longer tolerates that the proclamation of the Gospel in the world and the luminous magisterium of Pope Benedict should be obscured by the pitiful chronicles of the Roman Babylon.
It is the same fracture that characterizes the imminent conclave. Dolan is the consummate candidate who represents the impulse in the direction of purification. Not the only one, but certainly the most representative and audacious.
On the opposite side, however, the magnates of the curia are closing ranks and counterattacking. They are not pushing forward one of their own, knowing that in this way the game would be lost from the start. They are sniffing the wind that blows in the college of cardinals and are themselves pointing far from Rome, across the Atlantic, not to the north but to the south of America.
They are looking to São Paulo, Brazil, where there is a cardinal born from German immigrants, Odilo Pedro Scherer
, 64, who is well known in the curia, who was in Rome for years in the service of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re
when he was prefect of the congregation for bishops, and who today is part of the cardinalate council of supervision over the IOR, the Vatican “bank,” reconfirmed a few days ago with Bertone as its president.
Scherer is the perfect candidate for this maneuver, completely Roman and curial. It doesn't matter that he is not popular in Brazil, not even among the bishops, who when called to elect the president of their conference two years ago rejected him without appeal. Nor that he does not shine as archbishop of the great São Paulo, the economic capital of the country.
The important thing for the curial magnates is that he is docile and bland. The progressive halo that envelops his candidacy is of purely geographic derivation, but it too serves to ignite in some naïve cardinals the boast of electing the “first Latin American pope.”
As in the conclave of 2005 the votes of the curials and of the supporters of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini
converged together upon the Argentine Jorge Bergoglio
, in a failed attempt to block the election of Ratzinger, this time as well a similar marriage could take place. Curials and progressives united around the name of Scherer, with the little that remains of the ex-Martinians, from Roger Mahony to Godfried Danneels, both under fire for their lax conduct in the scandal of pedophile priests.
The pope who pleases the curials and progressives is by definition weak. He pleases the former because he leaves them alone. And the latter because he makes room for their dream of a “democratic” Church, governed “from below.”
It should come as no surprise that an outspoken representative of worldwide progressive Catholicism, the historian Alberto Melloni
, should have expressed the hope in “Corriere Della Sera” of February 25 that from the next conclave there should emerge not a “sheriff pope” but a "pastor pope,” should have scoffed at Cardinal Dolan and indicated precisely in four magnates of the curia the cardinals who in his judgment are most “capable of understanding the reality” and of determining “the effective result of the conclave”: the Italians Giovanni Battista Re, Giuseppe Bertello, Ferdinando Filoni, "and obviously Tarcisio Bertone".
That is, precisely the ones who are orchestrating the Scherer operation. To these four should be added the Argentine member of the curia Leonardo Sandri, who is rumored to be the next secretary of state.
For a curia constituted in this way, the mere hypothesis of the election of Dolan is fraught with terror. But Dolan as pope would also shake up that Church made up of bishops, priests, faithful who have never accepted the magisterium of Benedict XVI, his energetic return to the articles of the “Credo,” to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, to the sense of mystery in the liturgy.
Dolan is, in doctrine, a dyed-in-the-wool Ratzingerian, and moreover with the gift of being a great communicator. But he is also this in his vision of man and of the world. And in the public role that the Church is called to carry out in society.
In the United States, he is at the head of that team of “affirmative” bishops who have marked the rebirth of the Catholic Church after decades of subjection to the dominant culture and of yielding to the spread of scandal.
In Europe and in North America, the regions of most ancient but declining Christianity, there does not exist today a Church more vital and resurgent than that of the United States. And also more free and critical with respect to worldly powers. The taboo has vanished of an American Catholic Church that identifies itself with the primary global superpower and therefore can never produce a pope.
On the contrary, what is astonishing about this conclave is that the United States offers not one, but even two true "papabili." Because in addition to Dolan there is the archbishop of Boston, Seán Patrick O'Malley
, 69, with the robe and beard of the worthy Capuchin friar.
His belonging to the humble order of St. Francis is not an obstacle to the papacy, nor is it without illustrious precedents, because the great Julius II
, the pope of Michelangelo and Raphael, was also a Franciscan.
But what matters most is that Dolan and O'Malley are not two candidates opposed to one another. The vote of the one could converge upon the other, if necessary, because both are bearers of a single plan.
With respect to Dolan, O'Malley has a less resolute profile as far as management abilities are concerned. And this could make him more acceptable to some cardinals, allowing him to cross the decisive threshold of two thirds of the votes, 77 out of 115, that could instead be withheld from the more energetic, and therefore much more feared, archbishop of New York.
The same reasoning could be applied to a third candidate, the Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet
, he as well of solid Ratzingerian background and rich with talents similar to those of Dolan and O'Malley, but even more uncertain and timid than this latter in executive decisions. In a conclave that is focusing many of its expectations on the reordering of the governance of the Church, the candidacy of Ouellet, although taken into consideration by the cardinal electors, appears to be the weakest among the three North Americans.
By looking from Rome across the Atlantic, the imminent conclave is taking into consideration the new geography of the Church.
As a young man Cardinal Ouellet was a missionary in Colombia. Cardinal O'Malley speaks perfect Spanish and Portuguese and has always had as his preeminent activity the pastoral care of Hispanic immigrants. Cardinal Dolan is the head of the bishops of a country that has caught up to the Philippines in third place in the world for the number of Catholics, after Brazil and Mexico. And one third of the faithful of the United States are “Latinos,” and already half among those under the age of 40.
It is no surprise that the cardinals of Latin America should be ready to vote for these confrères of theirs from the north. And together with them other influential cardinals like the Italian Angelo Scola
, the archbishop of Paris André Vingt-Trois, the Australian George Pell
With the doors of the conclave closed, in the first scrutiny many votes could already fall upon Dolan, perhaps not the 47 of Ratzinger in the first vote of 2005, but still quite a few.