In the next conclave, the cardinals will elect what will be approximately the 264th pope, the exact number depending on your pope list.
Of the 184 cardinals under the age of 80, and therefore entitled to vote, those who could be marked out as candidates for the papal throne are dubbed papabile.
These old men of Rome, average age 71 years, should never be underestimated. When 44 cardinals, an unprecedented number, were added on 21st February 2001, Dr Paisley warned Protestants that these "Princes of the Church" are not harmless gentlemen. (www.ianpaisley.org/article.asp?ArtKey=cardinals) John Paul II told them in his address, "You come from 27 countries, four continents". And that is just the new 44. Over sixty countries and every Continent are represented in the total body. They swear, in Latin, allegiance to Christ and his Vicar on earth, the Pope of Rome. They also swear to utter secrecy concerning Vatican affairs. The blood red, three cornered hat, the biretta, given to each new prince by the pope, signifies that he must now "be ready to spill blood if need be to spread the faith".
Rome is a most conservative, absolute monarchy, serenely anchored in the millennia which flow past her bearing away the flotsam and jetsam of the centuries – dictators, world rulers and political systems.
The papacy itself is an Italian phenomenon, rejected since Italian unification but still lingering on like an inadequately excised tumour. Although past cardinals have elected 17 Frenchmen, 13 Greeks, 6 Syrians, 6 Germans, 3 Africans, 2 Spaniards, 2 Croatians, 1 Portuguese, 1 Fleming, 1 Englishman and now 1 Pole to St Peter’s chair, the remaining 211 popes have been Italians. John Paul II is the first non Italian for 450 years. These cardinals have regularly elected murderers, lazy licentious avaricious whoremongers, despots, nepotists, paedophiles, gluttons, necromancers and spiritualists amongst a handful of more respectable men.
Paul VI’s papal decree Ingravescentem Aetetem became effective Jan. 1, 1971. It limited the right to vote in the conclave to cardinals under the age of 80. This was an attempt to increase the system’s relevance. The number of voting cardinals is thus reduced to about 120. But the old non-voting cardinals still wield immense power.
The system militates against the hijacking of the conclave by vested interests, be they power blocks or nationality groups. In practise, opposing factions tend to be reduced to a stalemate.
These factions are already jockeying for position and have been for the last decade. Some cardinals may be good representatives of their particular faction but are ruled out before the conclave begins by the determination of the other parties to block them at all costs. The power blocks then have to choose from those who could still achieve a 2/3 majority and yet represent their position to some extent. Chain smoking Cardinal Villot, Paul VI’s Secretary of State, who knew everything there was to know in the Vatican at the time, picked out Cardinal Wojtyla at a dinner party in 1978 as thy only candidate sufficiently free of blocking to get two thirds of the vote. This was three months before Paul VI died.
John Paul II changed the rules in 1996 so that after 28 indecisive ballots, a 50% majority would be acceptable. This is probably intended to circumvent stubborn blocks who would otherwise have the power to force a weird decision which is in no-ones best interests.
The Holy Spirit’s part
Rome’s pious assertion that the Holy Spirit elects the pope by divine inspiration, was put succinctly in 1998 by Cardinal Eugenio Sales de Araujo of Rio de Janerio, a conservative hardliner opposed to liberation theology. He was 80 in the year 2000, which reduced the number of voting cardinals to 97 thus hastening the February 2001 Consistory. He said, "The Church is a communion, a single community with one point. The Church is built upon a rock. The point is not more freedom or less freedom. The point is loyalty to Jesus Christ. And a Church that is a Communion can have only one head, the pope. The point is not whether the pope is from Poland from Africa or from Europe. The important point is that the pope should be chosen by the Holy Spirit to guide its Church. That should be the reason for unity and for any appointment. The origin or ethnicity (of the pope) is not the essential factor. Here we are dealing on another level – the supernatural. It is necessary for God to manifest Himself through this man so the Church itself can fulfil its mission in the world…."
Ratzinger spills the beans
Anyone looking at Rome, even the faithful themselves, must be sceptical about such a claim. Amazingly, the first highly placed Cardinal publicly to give the lie to this rhetoric was the Chief Inquisitor himself, Cardinal Ratzinger, in a recent interview on Bavarian TV. Even an old campaigner like Ratzinger can unwittingly drop his guard in an informal setting.
Vaticanistas earn their living by Rome watching and any gaffe will soon be passed down the line. From a thigh slapping, beer-quaffing Bavarian, Ratzinger had become Archbishop of Munich. So naturally he has a big following in that part of the world.
When interviewed as local boy made good in April 1997, he must have thought that his comments were for little more than home consumption in this highly Romanist area, and perhaps he relaxed his guard.
The interviewer pinned him down. "Do you really believe that the Holy Spirit plays a role in the election of the pope".
Ratzinger, clearly conditioned to sniff out truth from error in any circumstances, was remarkably frank with his fellow countrymen. "I would not say so in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks the pope, because there are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked. I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair". He then put in the correcting plea that the Holy Spirit would not "entirely abandon us". The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to be "elastic" in the conclave. Having spilled the beans he summed the whole matter up by saying, "Probably the only assurance that He (The Holy Spirit) offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined"!
Readers will no doubt be treated to all sorts of pre-election speculation when the time arrives, should the Lord tarry in judgement. Europe still has the most voting cardinals, but they now number less than 50% of the total for the first time ever. The Italian voters have fallen to an all time low of just 24. Latin America with 40% of the world’s billion Roman Catholics has 27 voting cardinals. Africa have fewer voting cardinals, but Africa is the Roman Church’s area of greatest expansion by "conversion". Moreover the Africans have one person whose name constantly recurs as a front runner in all the odds lists. This is Cardinal Francis Arinze.
He was converted at the age of nine from the Ibo tribe, and is a likeable conservative. Arinze is President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.
If the Polish experiment is to be rejected and the Papacy returned to safe, conservative, Italian hands, "colourful" Giacomo Bifi, the Archbishop of Bolonga, and "dull" Diogeni Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Genoa, rate top of the odds. Both are supporters of Opus Dei.
Pastoral cardinals prefer archbishops to bureaucrats without practical experience. The awful legacy of bureaucrat Pius XII, which still haunts Rome, is thought by some to be due to his never having been a bishop.
The preferred candidate should be in his mid 60’s to early 70’s so that he neither hogs the post for decades, nor dies almost at once.
The pope is the Bishop of Rome and bishops retire at 75 though as pope he is not obliged to do so. The occupant of the Roman bishopric must be able to speak Italian in order to address the parishioners. Also Italian is the language of government in the Vatican State. The cardinals will all want to speak to their new pope which means that he must be able to speak reasonable English.
The hand of Opus Dei
The thing every Protestant observer wants to know is to what extent Opus Dei will be able to influence the conclave. Clearly Opus will seek to manipulate the conservatives, but just how successful this secretive organisation might be is difficult to know.
Opus must realise that there is a call for a third world pope. Opus is strong in Europe and Latin America. But farsighted Opus has not forgotten Africa. Its theological institute in Rome is the Ateneo Romano della Santa Croce (The Holy Cross Athenaeum). Robert Hutchison alleges in his well researched Opus expose Thy Kingdom Come, that it receives cheques from a New York foundation which acts as a front for Opus when African students come to Rome to study. The students do not get the money themselves and are therefore bound to Opus, even if the education they receive broadens their horizons. Also, Opus is strongly anti-Islamic and would see an African pope as a serious weapon to combat Islam.
Opus only have one cardinal so far, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima in Peru. The leading Vaticanista (Vatican watcher) Giancarlo Zizola is on record as saying "Opus Dei is the only group well organised enough working within the power structure of the Roman Curia that can make a difference" in how cardinals vote. As one might expect, this was hotly denied by Archbishop Julian Herranz, the most senior member of Opus Dei in the Vatican. He was reported in Time magazine as saying, "There are some who say there is an Opus Dei lobby … That lobby does not exist … there is no hidden agenda … the only policy is the message of Christ."
The power of Opus
The lightening canonisation of the Opus founder Escriva illustrates the Opus stranglehold within the Vatican. (He was canonised despite the fact that his beatification miracle, the healing of a nun, is disputed by the nun’s own Mother Superior who persistently denies the damsel was ever ill.)
Time did manage to get a lecturer at Santa Croce in Rome to be a bit more forthcoming. Fr John Wauck when asked about Opus members lobbying Cardinals replied, "Whether you want to call it politics or not, Opus Dei would have influence in that way. If you are a cardinal and you think highly of Opus Dei, their approval of someone will be a point in his favour". And many, many cardinals do think highly of Opus even if they do not advertise it. Hutchison, who published in 1997, and so is fairly up to date, lists a dazzling array of "18 prelates and 9 lay people – by no means a complete list – that are part of Opus central power base inside the Curia".
A Jesuit’s opinion
These Opus insiders are powerful in every aspect of Vatican life. Opus must benefit from the huge majority of cardinals that have been John Paul II’s own choice.
Political scholar Jesuit Fr Reese said that John Paul II "has looked for people that agree with him on the most important issues," and then appointed them. Opus has cultivated the same group. The fight is now on to make one of them the next pope.
Reese says, "we are not going to see someone elected that rejects the legacy of John Paul … Someone of different style, a different personality, but not straying from John Paul II’s line in substance and doctrine".
And an off-the-cuff guess from Jesuit Fr Reese? – Giovanni Battista Re, a senior, popular and likeable, Italian, Vatican official, "a creature of the system" with an "encyclopaedic" knowledge of its workings, age 68, is responsible for the day to day running of the government. He has been an "enforcer" of conservative values, open to decentralisation, a workaholic, approachable, sociable, and "good at small talk" at embassy parties.
His views on Opus? Well he would not tell us, would he?