Who Will It Be?

cardinals 2When the papal conclave unfolds today in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, who will the cardinal electors choose to succeed Pope Benedict XVI? Of course, we cannot know for certain the answer to this question due to the absolute secrecy of the conclave proceedings and the vast field of possible candidates for the papal office. In theory, any baptized man is eligible for the papacy. In practice, however, a variety of informal qualifications, traditional requirements and longstanding rules govern potential papal candidates, rendering some men much more likely than others to be elected Bishop of Rome. These include:

  • membership in the College of Cardinals;
  • being well known to the other cardinals;
  • being an archbishop;
  • excellent education and above-average intellectual abilities;
  • experience in the Roman Curia (the select group of cardinals who work in Rome assisting the pope with the administration of the Church);
  • strong organizational and leadership qualities;
  • remarkable diplomatic skills;
  • fluency in multiple major languages;
  • good PR and media skills;
  • remarkable and well-known intellectual, pastoral, administrative, and/or diplomatic achievements;
  • an ability to communicate with and relate to ordinary lay Catholics;
  • reasonably good health and not too advanced of an age;
  • irreproachable personal character;
  • a humble and cheerful personality; and
  • personal holiness.

Since only a handful of men in the Church today exhibit all or nearly all of these characteristics, we can make some reasonably educated guesses as to who might be chosen to fill the soon-to-be vacant Chair of Saint Peter. With these qualifications as guidelines, I have researched and compiled the following list of papabili or likely candidates for the papacy to succeed Pope Benedict XVI:

1. Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71, Archbishop of Milan, Italy

2. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, former Archbishop of Quebec, Canada, now Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops

3. Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, 70, Archbishop of Paris, France

4. Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, 68, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria

5. Cardinal Pedro Odilo Scherer, 63, Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil

6. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, 69, Archbishop of Genoa, Italy and President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference

7. Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, 65, former Archbishop of Brasilia, Brazil, now Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life

8. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, 70, Italy, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture

9. Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, 64, Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana and President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

10. Cardinal Kurt Koch, 62, former Archbishop of Basel, Switzerland, now President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

11. Cardinal Angelo Amato, 74, Italy, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints

12. Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, 67, former Archbishop of Toledo, Spain, now Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

13. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, 62, Archbishop of Lyon, France

14. Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, 68, Italy, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy

15. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, 69, Argentina, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches

16. Cardinal Angelo Comastri, 69, Italy, President of the Fabric of St. Peter, Vicar General of His Holiness for the State of Vatican City and Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica

17. Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, 69, Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria

18. Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, 70, Archbishop of Mexico City, Mexico

19. Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, 70, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras and President of Caritas Internationalis

20. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina

21. Cardinal Peter Erdo, 60, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary

22. Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, 64, USA, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura

23. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, 72, Italy, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome

24. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, 69, France, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

25. Cardinal Fernando Filoni, 66, Italy, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples

26. Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, 67, Poland, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

27. Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, 65, Archbishop of Florence, Italy

28. Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, 76, Archbishop of Madrid, Spain

29. Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, 75, Italy, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples

30. Cardinal Robert Sarah, 67, former Archbishop of Conakry, Guinea and President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum

31. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 63, Archbishop of New York, USA and President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference

32. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, 55, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines

In assembling this list, I have placed those whom I consider more likely to be elected pope nearer the top and those whom I regard as long shots at the bottom. For example, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York may be a widely known and respected leader in the Church today, but his lack of familiarity with the Roman curia and his status as an American are significant disadvantages that make him an unlikely papabile. (The cardinals tend to avoid electing a pope from a powerful country because this could jeopardize the diplomatic independence of the Holy See.) Nevertheless, I have included Cardinal Dolan because I think that his election is not entirely outside the realm of possibility.

Why are so many Italians included here? Because I foresee a possibility that, after two non-Italian popes, the cardinals may at least temporarily revert to the centuries-old tradition of electing an Italian pontiff. Many of the Italian cardinals have extensive experience working in the curia, which is a major plus for a potential pope, and their high-profile positions in the Vatican make them well known to the other cardinals around the world in the process of dealing with Church administrative matters.

The thirty-two men listed above represent the cream of the crop–the finest and best-known leaders in our Church today. It is highly likely that one of their number will become the next pope. Have I overlooked anyone? That is possible. My experience at guessing or predicting who will be elevated to the papacy is quite limited–after all, this will be only the second conclave of my lifetime. Moreover, as an outsider to the Vatican I am at a disadvantage compared with those who observe the inner workings and dynamics of the Holy See at closer range, and who are therefore more qualified to predict who the next Roman Pontiff will be. Nevertheless, over the past ten years I have done a fair amount of research on the subject of papal elections, and this has given me some idea of what to expect when the conclave of 2013 takes place.

In researching the cardinals and compiling the above roster of papabili, I have attempted to be as rigorous and objective as possible. Of course, it is difficult to be entirely unbiased. I frankly admit that I have placed Cardinal Schonborn so near the top mainly because I personally like him and would like to see him elected pope, despite his relative lack of experience in the Roman curia which could be a minus for his electability. On the other hand, however, he is among the best-known cardinals in the world, well-respected, a brilliant theologian and writer (not unlike Pope Benedict in many ways) with a charismatic personality, and he also has most of the other informal qualifications for a serious papal contender.

But thankfully, it’s not up to me to decide who will be the 265th Successor of Saint Peter. The responsibility for deciding that rests with the 116 or so cardinal electors, who will try to listen to and follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in their choice of a successor to Pope Benedict XVI. We should keep them in our prayers as they prepare to undertake this challenging duty of such momentous importance for the life of the whole Church. Regardless of whom the cardinals pick as our new Holy Father, I will gladly accept and embrace him without the least hesitation, fully believing and trusting that the Holy Spirit, through the new Sovereign Pontiff and the bishops in communion with him, will continue guiding the Church so that it teaches the truth of Christ faithfully and without error as it has done uninterruptedly for the past 2,000 years.


Image credit: shutterstock.com


Justin Soutar is a Catholic author who writes from Virginia about his faith, pro-life and religious liberty issues, American politics, terrorism, and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

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