Who Will Be The Most Powerful Man in the World?

It was obvious to anyone in the last two weeks of John Paul II's death and funeral that the Pope is the most powerful man in the world.  This was the biggest news event in history, the largest funeral in history with five million at the funeral and hundreds of millions all over the world watching on television, the most Presidents, Kings and Queens, Prime Ministers and even Dictators to honor anyone in the history of the world.  It was clear to anyone that this was the most powerful man in the world. 

Now, tomorrow as I am writting this, 117 Cardinals will enter into the first day of secret voting and will continue until they elect a new pope, and the new most powerful man in the world and leader of 1,300,000,000 people.  He will remain Pope until his death and his commands cannot be appealed as he is the highest authority in the Church and feared outside the Church, not because of any physical power but because of people power.   

My First Choice

Remember that when they vote for the next pope, they will first consider the front runners but if no one can come up to the 77 votes needed for a 2/3s majority, they may look for an outsider as they did with Pope John Paul II.  In truth they do not have to pick a Cardinal, nor a Bishop, and in truth they do not even have to pick a priest.  If they picked a lay man, he would be ordained a priest and bishop and Pope all at the same time.  So anything can happen.  The important thing is this is a true conclave of Cardinals and who they elect will be a true Pope.   If they elect a Pope within four days I know who he will be but if it goes longer than that I have no ideas. 

At first my choice for the next pope would have been a black man because the fastest growing Catholic Church in the world is Africa.  Africa is also producing the most priest per capita in the world and exporting them to the ailing parishes and empty pews of Europe to focus on vibrant congregations to the south.  In the western world except for Portugal and Spain, not much has been done to convert blacks to the Church, but with a black pope conversion would be easier.  Africa now number 135.6 million, which is nearly 17 percent of worldwide membership and could be 25 percent in 10 years.

The church's influence in Africa goes beyond its congregations. Catholic schools educate millions, counting several current leaders among their alumni. Church-run hospitals and clinics serve far more people than the Catholic population. Catholic charities make the church known even in villages without congregations.

According to the U.S. Catholic News Service, half of Africa's 426 active Catholic bishops have been named since the 1994 synod and the continent's Catholic population has increased 30 percent over a decade as has the number of priests and seminarians.

However the only possible black candidate for Pope among the 12 Cardinals is Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. Arinze, 72, shares John Paul's conservative views on abortion, contraception and homosexuality.   Arinze has a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother and a basic simplicity of Faith that the erudite western moderns should make as a model for their own faith.  He was not afraid to speak the truth at a Georgetown commencement, even though it tremendously upset the faculty that a Catholic cardinal would exhort the graduates of a Catholic university to live lives according to the teachings of the Church. 

However in his book on "Church in Dialogue", which I have not read, there is some wording that leaves some doubt as to his feelings for other religions and that gives me enough doubt to make him me second choice instead of my first.

That being said and in spite of his age, Cardinal Ratzinger is my first choice.  Cardinal Ratzinger's intellectual prowess is unquestioned. After more than 2 decades in the Roman Curia, he knows the ways of the Vatican well, yet he also has pastoral experience as the former Archbishop of Munich. Based on Cardinal Ratzinger's record and pronouncements, his agenda seems clear. Inside the church, he would like to impose more doctrinal discipline, reining in priests who experiment with liturgy or seminaries that permit a broad interpretation of doctrine. Outside, he would like the church to assert itself more forcefully against the trend he sees as most threatening: globalization leading eventually to global secularization.  Cardinal Ratzinger has voiced openly that he would turn the priest around facing the altar in Mass and has objected to communion in the hand.  The very weakness of Pope John Paul II, discipline - would be Ratzinger's strength at a time when that is needed the most.  We need a pro-active Church in the political world and I think Ratzinger would organize that.  I count at least 84 Cardinals that I would call conservative of the 117 but Ratzinger would need almost all of them to win.  He seems to have 50 votes already.

Other Good Men

Cardinal Ivan Dias of Bombay is one of the few prelates who can rival Pope John Paul's linguistic ability; he is fluent in at least 17 languages. Another veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps and the Secretariat of State, he now heads a huge diocese in an often hostile environment. A friend and ally of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he has protested the anti-Christian attacks by Hindu zealots, yet observes that for the Church, "persecution is something natural," often presaging a great growth in the faith.

Cardinal Audrys Backis of Vilnius, Lithuania is approximately the right age, at 68; he has the right experience in both the Vatican diplomatic corps (with postings in the Philippines, Costa Rica, Turkey, and Nigeria) and the Roman Curia (the powerful Secretariat of State).

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar is the Major Archbishop of Kiev, the spiritual leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which is the largest Eastern Church in full communion with the Holy See. The selection of a Byzantine prelate would be a sensational move, sure to cause turmoil in Vatican relations with the Orthodox churches, with results that are difficult to predict. Cardinal Husar is the only US citizen on this list.

Cardinal Vlk, a Ukrainian Catholic that left for the US as a young child.  He was mentioned as a dark horse candidate. As pope, he might be able to bring about the unification of East and West.  (It would be hard for the Patriarch of Moscow to refuse the visit of a Ukrainian pope.) 

Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi has headed three large Italian sees: Ancona, Genoa, and now Milan, the largest archdiocese in Europe. An expert in bioethics and sexual morality, he was heavily involved in the drafting of the papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae.. He has also been outspoken in questioning the globalization of the world's economic system. Cardinal Tettamanzi draws support from across the spectrum of political and theological opinions. Disadvantages: Although he enjoys working with the media, Cardinal Tettamanzi is far from telegenic, and his lack of facility with languages-- he does not speak English-- would contrast sharply with the communications skills of Pope John Paul II.

This is all that I can come up with but if I was a betting man, I would say that if it is not Ratzinger, it will be someone no one would have guessed.  Maybe he will not be a Cardinal or even an Archbishop.  Would it not be great to have a Prior of some semi-cloistered order.  I also know of some great priests who will never be bishops simply because their work in conference preaching and writing is too valuable for the Church but they would make great popes.  The Holy Spirit is in charge.

Nonetheless there will be many who will not accept any pope this time but rather than talk again on this subject take a look at the very well presented comments by Kevin Symonds at http://www.kevinsymonds.com/popemyst.html

Richard Salbato

Note:  If for the first time a layman was selected my choice would be a married man named Dr. Sean Collins.  Probability of his getting elected? Zero, unfortunately.  Of all the people I know, I think he'd be the best choice.  The canonical and diplomatic implications of a Pope's legitimate wife would be interesting but I do think he'd have what it takes to balance firmness with gentleness in discipline and he has the brains to see through fluff.