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Saturday, August 19, 2017
Date Posted:

Cardinal Ratzinger

Who Will Be The Next Pope And How Will He Be Elected? – The Bets Are On

Dr Clive Gillis

PADDY POWER, bookmaker to the Irish priests, is offering odds on who is likely to succeed the late Pope John Paul II, already dubbed ‘St John Paul the Great’.

At the time of writing, the betting is: Italian Dionigi Tettamanzi 5‑2; Nigerian Francis Arinze 11‑4; Honduran Oscar Maradiaga 4-l; and Bavarian Chief Inquisitor Joseph Ratzinger 7‑1. Arinze, Maradiaga and Ratzinger have been in the top four for several years.

Only two previous popes have been called ‘The Great’.  Leo the Great died in 461 and Gregory the Gnat in 590.  They was followed by St Hilarius and Sabinianus respectively, both of whose pontificates were shorter and less charismatic than their famous predecessors.  Hence we may expect the appointment of an older caretaker pope at this time.

In 1978 the present Pope’s predecessor, John Paul I, who was widely thought to have been murdered, was elected in a mere four ballots. This was at the behest of two cardinals who had no difficulty in swaying a sufficient number of their colleagues to carry the day.


A cardinal described the second 1978 conclave, the one that appointed John Paul II, as “groping in the dark”.  The power struggle was between three power blocks: the extremely reactionary Italian supporters of Cardinal Siri, the new Vatican II liberals, and Ratzinger’s central block sniping at, and poaching, from both.  The possibility of a non‑Italian pope was unthinkable, the last such being a Dutchman whose brief pontificate ended in 1523.

The bellicose Italians, by blocking proceedings, self destructed. The Ratzinger faction, in alliance with the increasingly frustrated non‑Italians, had previously approached Wojtyla’s senior, Wyszynski, who demurred, but ordered Wojtyla “to accept”.  This took eight ballots, with a maximum of four per day, and produced a result in a few days.


Vatican watchers shadow Paddy power, but the decision lies ultimately with the dominant power groups.  They will make introductions on the first day, the 18th April.  This is when the non‑voting Cardinals, those who are aged over 80 years, exert their influence. John Paul II flattered himself by creating more Cardinals than any other pope before him and he created them “in his own image”.   Of  the 117 voting Cardinals under 80 years, almost all are John Paul II’s men.

In 1996 John Paul II promulgated Universi Dominici Gregis (‘All the Lord’s flock’) which laid down that after about 30 ballots or 12 days a tie breaker of 50% plus one vote would replace the usual two thirds majority.  Despite this the Conclave may well follow the pattern of the eight conclaves of the 20th century, where there have been on average eight ballots (with a range of between 3 and 14 ballots).

More sinister is John Paul II`s ruling of excommunication for anyone guilty of purchasing votes.  At the same time he ruled that the standing of a pope so elected would remain valid even if simony came to light. Opus Dei is fabulously rich and could afford any price tag if so minded and manage the consequences.  Similarly John Paul II, by the same directive, released the new pope from honouring any deals he might have made in Conclave.  He clearly considered both these irregularities real possibilities.


The princes of the church may well have egos large enough for the job, but there is more to it than that.  Seventeen per cent of the world’s population are Roman Catholics.  The world’s population are Roman Catholics.  The papacy is the largest and most wealthy global religious corporation on earth, as Scripture predicted it would be.  The number of Roman Catholics increased by one quarter during John Paul II’s pontificate, yet its servicing priesthood has remained static at 400,000.  Only one third of its devotees are in Europe and North America, two thirds being in southern hemisphere with 43% in Latin America.

African Roman Catholics have increased from 50 to 90 million in the last 20 years.

Therefore a charismatic personality, an able intellect and a good grasp of languages, over and above the ever essential Italian and Latin, is really essential.  Yet it is unlikely to be possessed by most lacklustre caretaker candidates. It is interesting that at the 1998 Asiatic summit, a Japanese bishop asked why papal material, reaching them in Latin, once translated into Japanese had according to custom to be returned to Rome to ensure it was correct, when no one in the Vatican was qualified to check it!


Italy has now only a tiny proportion of the world’s Roman Catholics, yet it is the hills of Rome on which “the woman sitteth” which define Rome. Although the number of Italian voting Cardinals is small there is a large body of non‑voting Italian cardinals behind the scenes.  Further the Vatican is the country of domicile for many cardinals so that overall 35% of the voting cardinals, if not heading Italian dioceses, live and work in Vatican City which stamps an indelible mark on men wherever they come from.

Paddy Power and the pundits rate Dionigi Tettamanzi (Bull’s breasts!) as favourite of the four Italians in the top ten.  He is 71, which is the ideal caretaker age, and yet not so old that the ploy is too obvious to the cynics.  He is non charismatic, the epithet “that wee fat guy” has stuck.  He is a conservative, a John Paul II clone.  More important, he is intelligent enough to have won over Opus Dei by supporting the recent canonisation of Opus Dei founder Escriva with a panegyric on Escriva, and yet not so intelligent that they need fear his outsmarting them.


On the face of it Ratzinger, John Paul II’s enforcer and his genuine friend, would seem an ideal choice ­to safeguard John Paul’s heritage.  Ratzinger is the first Inquisitor in history to have a thriving fan club with a busy merchandising section complete with tee shirts, beer steins, car stickers, fridge magnets and, as the latest addition, a streetwise white cap with PAPIST emblazoned across the front in German Gothic script.

Ratzinger is certainly the conservative’s champion.  He is already essentially a vicepope and behaves as such around the Vatican.  At 77 he is the oldest popeable cardinal, and would probably be seen to be more valuable first as a pope maker in conclave, and then as a continuing conservative enforcer and thorn in the side of a new pope who might be a little too liberal.


With only slightly lower odds than Tettamanzi is the smiling black, “Mr Interfaith” Francis Arinze of Nigeria, where the Church faces a hostile Islam.  His age is right at 72.  He is a conservative.  He has worked in Rome.  He is pleasant but yet no threatening original thinker.  He heads the Pontifical Council for Inter‑religious Dialogue.  He set up John Paul II’s visit to a mosque, the fast ever visit by a pontiff, and would be ideal for dialogue with Islam.

Until there is a black President of the USA conservative Rome may not be ready for this bold statement particularly as the Nigerian Cistercian monk, Cyprian Tansi, that baptised Arinze at age nine, and lured him into the priesthood, was beatified in Nigeria by John Paul II in March 1998. Tansi thereby became the first West African candidate for canonisation.  But John Paul also created Arinze Cardinal in 1985.  If Arinze were to become the first African pope many might fear huge press publicity that would picture West Africa as the breeding ground of the papal future particularly as the two enjoyed a prolonged fairy tale father‑son relationship fitting for a Hollywood movie.

Also there are a host of talented Latin American Cardinals serving nearly half all Roman Catholics who might well feel they have historical and numerical priority.


The leading liberal is Belgian heart disease victim Godfried Danneels.  He is 72 with a limited expectation of life.  He has a good intellect spiced with wit.  He is on record as saying that condoms should be used to counteract the spread of AIDS.  He would also welcome a modest opening up of the Church to women.  Even more important is the fact that he favours collegiality, that is decentralisation of power, delegating it down from the Vatican to individual bishops of dioceses.  John Paul II spent his whole pontificate doing just the opposite, and there is a huge groundswell of opinion demanding that this be reversed as a top priority. Many conservatives who would not agree with Danneels on much else, might be forced to join his camp as their only hope of advancing this one vital issue.

Finally all these popeable men have lesser doubles, much as Wojtyla was to Wyszinski.  But however fresh and appealing these secondary figures might appear in conclave ‑ and early sound bites do indicate younger Cardinals in buoyant mood looking to repeat John Paul’s performance ‑ the election of one of these charismatic, young, secondary figures is probably something the powerful, elderly, grey gentlemen will exert their authoity to avoid.

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