The Next Conclave: A Referendum on Reform?

Cardinal Parolin

Vatican journalist Sandro Magister recently reported that three names are being mentioned around the Vatican and beyond with respect to the next conclave: Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and Cardinals Robert Sarah (Guinea) and Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle (Manila). However, he confidently rules out the latter two. Tagle is too young (60), and Sarah (77) is too conservative and could never get the necessary two-thirds support. He adds that as an African, Sarah’s candidacy would be only “symbolic”, leaving Parolin in “pole position”.

Marco Tossati  thinks Sarah stands a much better chance and senses a growing fear among progressives that Sarah’s “papabile” is increasing. The Pope’s public reproach of the Cardinal concerning his interpretation of Magnum Principium, according to the Vaticanist, reflected this fear. “…[T]he letter was celebrated as a just humiliation of the cardinal and accompanied by calls for his resignation.” While he admits that Parolin is in a strong position, he adds that Cardinal Sarah,

Cardinal Sarah

“….is known for his holiness of life and lack of interest in any form of power or coercion, even in the Church. Moreover, Africa is the continent where the Church is growing most dramatically, and where faith is often practiced to the point of martyrdom. Nothing could be more fitting than for the next pope to come from that continent. And so we come to the great irony of the campaign to discredit this quiet and long-suffering churchman. Cardinal Sarah is attacked precisely because he is seen as having the makings of a pope.”

Interestingly, Crux’s John Allen, commenting on the international character of recent Cardinal appointments, explains that the western categories of “liberal” or “conservative” don’t apply to many of them and may not be a factor in their vote. It may also not have been the major factor in the 2013 conclave as one analysis concludes that it was “…a clash between two ‘parties’—curialists on one side, reformists on the other.”

“Certainly the 115 voting Cardinals were conscious of the fact that electing an Italian—regardless of how distant from the Curia—wouldn’t be a great sign of reform. For Massimo Franco of Corriere della Sera, the election of a Pope originating from South America was necessary to convey a new start, as well as send a signal to the strong Latin American catholic community, that up to now has always felt marginalized by a European-centric church.”

The next conclave, in my view, is likely to have the same concerns as the last one — reform of the Curia, toward which the present Pope has not made much progress. Candidates seen as representing the status quo, like Cardinal Parolin, may not fare as well as expected. For example:

  • Careerism has been an issue for the Church as it distracts a priest from his duties to his flock. While Pope Francis has long been and outspoken critic of careerism among the clergy, the only concrete action he’s taken was to eliminate the title, “Monsignor”, an honor usually reserved for very devoted priests.
  • The Pope has been criticized for a weak response to the sex abuse scandals. The commission he established to protect minors had a member quit, because “…she could not accept the obstruction she encountered from some of the Roman Catholic Church’s most senior clerics” (BBC). Also, the discovery that drug-fueled orgies were being organized by a member of the curia in a Vatican apartment was never acknowledged by the Pope or Vatican authorities.
  • Francis appointed Cardinal Pell to oversee the reform of the Vatican Bank, a good start. But in the course of an external audit, 200 million Euros were discovered that had been held off the books. Suddenly, without the Cardinal’s knowledge, the audit was terminated by the Secretary of State (Parolin) for no apparent reason. Moreover, the Pope had established a commission to advise him on the progress of financial reform (COSEA); it was disbanded after two of its members were arrested for leaking documents to journalists.

The selection of the next pope might be similar to the last, an outsider who appears capable of reforming the Curia. In this regard I would speculate that it might be one of the African Cardinals like Sarah, Turkson (Ghana), or Napier (South Africa).


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