Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, Italy
Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria
Cardinal Péter Erdõ of Budapest, Hungary
Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of São Paulo, Brazil
Italian Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa
John L. Allen Jr. | Feb. 27, 2013 NCR Today
Back in 2000, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Ray Flynn and writer Robin Moore published a novel called The Accidental Pope. Although they didn't have Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco in mind, if the 70-year-old Italian gets elected, there's a sense the title would fit him like a glove.
When Bagnasco was installed as president of the powerful Italian bishops' conference in 2007, known by its acronym CEI, he was seen as a compromise between competing camps. (CEI, by the way, is the only bishops' conference in the world whose president is named by papal appointment.)
At one level, the contest was between moderates, who wanted Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan, and conservatives, who wanted someone like Cardinal Angelo Scola (then of Venice, now in Milan) or perhaps Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna.
In another sense, it pitted Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the über-powerful Vicar of Rome and president of CEI during the John Paul years, against Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict's Secretary of State. That clash wasn't over ideology, but primacy. John Paul had let Ruini do the heavy lifting in Italy, but Bertone aspired to become the new point of reference. Neither wanted a third player in the game, so they settled on Bagnasco, who seemed sufficiently low-profile to stay out of the fray.
Bagnasco remained in his archdiocese of Genoa rather than coming to Rome, which at the time was read to mean he would keep the wheels of CEI grinding while Ruini and Bertone slugged it out.
The bottom line is that Bagnasco was thrust into the spotlight largely because he profiled as someone who wouldn't do much with it. Over the last six years, however, something unexpected happened: He grew into the role.
As it turns out, Bagnasco had been quietly preparing for his star turn all along.
The son of a baker, Bagnasco was born in the small town of Pontevico in Italy's Lombardy region. He grew up in Genoa, where he became a disciple of the port city's legendary Cardinal Giuseppe Siri. (Widely believed to have been a candidate for the papacy in 1958 and1963, as well as the two conclaves of 1978, Siri was a conservative lion. Journalist Benny Lai once published a biography of him titled The Pope Never Elected.)
As a young priest, Bagnasco studied metaphysics (he's a convinced Thomist) and contemporary atheism at the University of Genoa, and complemented those academic interests with deep pastoral experience, among other things working as a chaplain for the scouts and for a federation of Italian university students. Despite his ties to Siri, Bagnasco never came off as intransigent; people who remember him from those days say he struck them as smart and keenly pastoral, with a gift for mediation and holding people together.
In 2003, Bagnasco was named Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate in Italy, a complex job because the military is scattered all across the country and the world, but one that typically isn't seen as a political stepping stone because there's no local church to lead and no local media to pay attention. Yet in 2006, when Bertone left Genoa to work for Benedict XVI, Bagnasco was tapped to take the reins.
At CEI, Bagnasco has led the opposition to civil recognition of same-sex couples, once stirring controversy when he appeared to compare homosexuality to incest and pedophilia. (Amid the furor, an anonymous envelope arrived at Bagnasco's office containing a single bullet and a picture of the archbishop with a swastika carved into it.)
Bagnasco also upheld a strong line against euthanasia in the anguished 2008 right-to-die case of Eluana Englaro, a 37-year-old woman who entered a persistent vegetative state in January 1992 after a car accident. She'd been kept alive by a feeding tube, which her father wanted to remove on the grounds that Englaro did not wish to live that way. The case became a national cause célèbre, comparable to the American debate over Terri Schiavo in 2005.
The father's wish was eventually granted, and Englaro died in 2009.
In general, however, Bagnasco has tried to lead the bishops into the political center, embracing the moderate government of technocratic Prime Minister Mario Monti and distancing them from their de facto alliance with the flamboyant conservative Silvio Berlusconi. On matters of social justice, Bagnasco has insisted that people have a right to employment and has questioned a press from Italy's business community for greater workforce flexibility, generally seen by pro-labor groups as a pretext for watering down job security.
Though the Italian church has yet to live through a massive sexual abuse crisis analogous to the United States, Ireland and other parts of the world, Bagnasco has taken positions that could allow him to be seen as a reformer. In 2010, he acknowledged that bishops may have covered up abuse in the past, saying such silence "must be corrected and overcome," and also indicated he was willing to meet with abuse victims "at any time" and expected his brother bishops to do the same thing.
Bagnasco called the sexual exploitation of children a "heinous crime."
Now 82, Ruini has withdrawn from the public to-and-fro, seemingly content with the role of elder statesman; Bertone's political heft has been compromised by perceptions of disarray in the Vatican. Bagnasco has filled that vacuum, emerging as an articulate, well-reasoned, and smiling pitchman for the church's concerns.
The case for Bagnasco as pope boils down to four points.
First, he's seen as someone adept at navigating the shoals of Italian ecclesiastical politics, a figure with friends in all the different camps, who's kept CEI largely intact and avoided any major fractures or embarrassments. At a time when many cardinals want someone who can put the Vatican back in order, that résumé could seem appealing.
Second, Bagnasco's pedigree as a disciple of Siri makes him more than acceptable to the traditionalists in the College of Cardinals, but his profile as a pragmatic centrist also means he could draw support from moderates.
Third, Bagnasco's academic study of contemporary atheism and his capacity to project a reasonable voice for the church in public affairs, unwavering on substance yet gentle in tone, could strike some cardinals as the right fit in terms of engaging an increasingly secular world in the 21st century. He also speaks multiple languages, generally seen as a basic requirement of the job.
Fourth, Bagnasco's history of being a compromise solution to thorny political problems could come in handy. By consensus, there is no clear front-runner in the 2013 conclave, and it's entirely possible that votes in the early rounds could splinter among two or three strong candidates. If none seems positioned to reach a two-thirds majority, heads may begin turning towards a figure more or less palatable to everybody, even if he didn't start out as their first choice.
On the other hand, there are some compelling reasons why Bagnasco might not pass the smell test.
First, there's an anti-Italian humor among some cardinals who see the recent breakdowns in the Vatican as the product of internal Italian squabbles. Reform, in their mind, often means breaking the Italian stranglehold, which doesn't seem to bode well for an Italian pope.
Second, Bagnasco may be recognizable in Italy, but he's not well known anywhere else. Some cardinals may worry about rolling the dice on someone they don't know all that well, especially at a time when the church faces fresh scrutiny amid various scandals, either real or invented, swirling in the global media.
Third, despite Bagnasco's polish and intellectual depth, some cardinals may question how effective he is at moving the ball vis-à-vis the church's concerns. In the recent Italian elections, for instance, Bagnasco and CEI appeared to back Monti's re-election bid, yet the incumbent barely got 10 percent of the vote. If that's the best Bagnasco can do in his own backyard, some cardinals may wonder, what can we expect him to accomplish in other parts of the world?
Fourth, Bagnasco was a player in the surreal "Boffo case" in 2009 and 2010, when the editor of CEI's newspaper was accused of harassing a woman because he wanted to pursue an affair with her fiancé. When it emerged that some of the supposed police documents in the case were fake, conspiracy theories accused senior Vatican personnel, including Bertone and the editor of the Vatican newspaper, of being behind the plot. Bagnasco backed Boff throughout, and later named him director of the bishops' TV network.
Despite an avalanche of commentary and coverage, at the end of the day, the truth of the matter still seems murky. Though most cardinals outside Italy probably weren't paying much attention, there may still be some question marks about Bagnasco's handling of the situation.
Despite those drawbacks, nobody paying careful attention to pre-conclave dynamics would count Bagnasco out of the running. In a wide-open field, somebody with a reputation for smarts, being orthodox yet pragmatic, and generally managing to keep his nose clean might just stand a decent chance.
Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture
John L. Allen Jr. | Feb. 26, 2013 NCR Today
To date I haven’t included Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi in my daily sketches of papal contenders, largely because I published a profile of him on the first day of the Vatican’s Lenten Retreat, which was led by the 70-year-old President of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
That profile can be found here.
Suffice it to say that I’m sticking to my guns: In many ways, Ravasi really is “the most interesting man in the church.”
Ravasi drew good reviews for his meditations during the retreat, organized as a series of reflections on the Psalms. At the end, Pope Benedict XVI thanked him for his “brilliant” work – “brilliant” being a word that often tends to crop up in sentences about Ravasi.
In most media reports, the only line from the retreat that got much play was Ravasi’s reference to “divisions, dissent, careerism [and] jealousies”, which made a nice sound-bite amid the “Vatican gay lobby” furor touched off by the Italian media.
Those who sat through the entire week-long experience in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater chapel, however, seemed to have favorable impressions. One cardinal said halfway through the week that Ravasi was coming off as “extremely impressive.”
Here’s the logic for Ravasi as the next pope.
First, he’s clearly got the cerebral heft. Whenever Ravasi appears in public, he coughs up literary allusions the way two-pack-a-day smokers do phlegm – regularly, and without thinking about it. In December 2010, he offered an impromptu welcome for a lecture at the Vatican by a Cambridge cosmologist. In the course of fifteen minutes, Ravasi cited Nietzsche, Kant, Levi-Strauss, Stephen J. Gould, and Isaac Newton – a pace of one quotation every minute and a half.
For bonus points, Ravasi added that he’s read not only Newton’s best-known works, but also his obscure commentary on the Book of Revelations – which, Ravasi laughingly said, was “awful”. He’s able to range so widely in part because he only sleeps about four hours every night, and he generally fills that extra time with books.
Second, Ravasi also has a striking popular touch. Whenever he goes back to his native Milan to speak he draws overflow crowds, often composed of young Italians not otherwise beating down the church’s door.
From 2002 to 2007, Ravasi wrote a daily column in the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire. Called “Mattutino”, or “morning prayer”, it offered a short thought for the day, often accompanied by a quote drawn from an array of authors, and was highly popular.
Third, Ravasi is a Vatican insider, but one not associated with any recent crisis. Many cardinals want the next pope to clean house inside the Vatican, but they also want someone who knows the system. Those are two qualities tough to find together, since creatures of the bureaucracy often aren’t necessarily the right ones to reform it.
Ravasi, however, is that rare figure who’s seen as in the Vatican but not of it.
He clearly has the courage of his convictions. In 2009 he hosted a Vatican conference on evolution, inviting scientists and believers into dialogue – despite what he called the “terror” of some in the Vatican, who felt it might open doors better left closed. (Ravasi said that Benedict XVI backed him on the project “completely”.)
Fourth, Ravasi could strike some cardinals as the ideal candidate to be the church’s “Missionary-in-Chief.” He’s a man of Christian tradition fully at home in the post-modern world. He’s also media savvy, and has thought carefully about how the church ought to engage the new communications revolution – what it means to evangelize in the age of kindles and iPads, 4G mobile phones and netbooks.
“We can’t just say that in order to maintain the purity of our message, we’re going to keep on using the same categories,” Ravasi said in a 2010 interview with NCR. “The result of that is usually that people don’t understand anything we say. What you get is deafness, not communication.”
Fifth, Ravasi is an admirer of Benedict XVI who’s conventionally seen as fairly conservative in theological terms. (There was a minor kerfuffle back in 2002 when Ravasi published an article about Easter, in which he said that Jesus was not “risen” from the dead, but that he “arose.” Some thought the comment heterodox, and three years later that doubt may have cost Ravasi an appointment as the bishop of Assisi. Benedict XVI, however, removed all doubt by naming Ravasi to his Vatican post.) No one, however, thinks of Ravasi as an ideologue.
There are also some fairly serious reservations.
First and perhaps most consequentially, Ravasi has almost zero pastoral experience. He’s never led a diocese, and his only real administrative position was heading the Ambrosian Library in Milan. Typically, many cardinals believe that a good dose of in-the-trenches pastoral seasoning is a sine qua non.
Second, Ravasi faces a problem of electoral math. He’s never been part of any particular Italian faction or circle of influence, preferring to go his own way. That’s part of his charm, but it also means that he has no natural base of support, no bloc of fellow cardinals whose votes are already in his pocket.
One veteran Italian Vatican-watcher said today that Ravasi doesn’t have “one tenth” the support among the Italians as Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, for precisely this reason.
Moreover, Ravasi’s job at the Council for Culture is not exactly cut out for forging political alliances. He can’t name bishops, or deliver aid to local churches across the developing world, or shape decisions on Vatican policy. The Council for Culture is basically a think tank with few tangible favors to bestow.
Third, some cardinals may see Ravasi as cut a bit too much from Benedict’s cloth – a scholarly personality who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of running the church. In an atmosphere in which they want the next pope to take control of the reins of government a bit more firmly, that could be a drawback.
Fourth, even some cardinals based in Rome say they don’t know Ravasi well, aside from what they read in the papers. That’s a telling reaction to a man who’s worked in the Vatican since 2007, and who’s been part of the Italian church scene his entire life. Ironically, Ravasi may be more familiar to secular philosophers and academics than to many of his fellow cardinals.
Of course, in a race with no clear frontrunner, even longshot candidates may stand a better shot at breaking through. Perhaps those cardinals for whom Ravasi’s Lenten Retreat is still fresh may keep him in the back of their minds, especially if things get complicated and the candidates on today’s “A list” don’t seem capable of crossing that magic two-thirds threshold.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria
John L. Allen Jr. | Feb. 25, 2013 NCR Today
Although the election of a pope is in many ways a carefully scripted process, the closest thing to a wild card this time around may well be 68-year-old Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna.
Depending on who's doing the handicapping, the erudite Dominican is either an obvious, slam-dunk contender or somebody who's basically taken himself out of the running.
Schönborn certainly has the right pedigree for the job. A member of the ancient Austrian noble family of Schönborn-Buchheim-Wolfstahl, he's one of two cardinals and 19 archbishops, bishops, priests and religious sisters his family has produced. He's not even the first Schönborn to be the primate of the Austrian church; that honor fell to his great-great uncle, Cardinal Franz Graf Schönborn, who led the Austrian episcopacy under the old Austro-Hungarian empire from his position as the archbishop of Prague. (He had previously been the bishop of Budweis -- hence he was, believe it or not, a "Budweiser.")
Schönborn studied theology under then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger in Regensburg, Germany, in the 1970s, and later taught at the prestigious Swiss University of Friborg. He served as general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In Vienna, he won high marks early on for steadying a church that had been rocked by a sexual abuse scandal involving his predecessor. As time went on, however, Schönborn's image became more mixed. He was involved in an ugly clash with the demagogic Bishop Kurt Krenn of Sankt Pölten, and many people preferred Krenn's blunt talk to Schönborn's shifting and evasive comments. Schönborn then carried out a purge of his staff, in one case informing his popular vicar general that he had been fired by leaving a note on his doorstep.
More recently, Schönborn has watched as hundreds of his own priests have gone into open rebellion, issuing a "call to disobedience" over issues such as celibacy and the role of women in the church. (The movement is actually led by the former vicar.) While Schönborn hasn't exactly welcomed the uprising, he hasn't shut down lines of conversation either, which some see as admirable pastoral sensitivity, and others as cowardice.
Two years ago, many people were ready to write an obituary for Schönborn's papal prospects after a highly public spat with Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a former Secretary of State and still the dean of the College of Cardinals.
As a series of clerical abuse scandals exploded across Europe, which among other things cast a critical spotlight on Benedict XVI's personal record, Sodano created a sensation by calling that criticism "petty gossip" during the Vatican's Easter Mass.
In a session with Austrian journalists not long afterward, Schönborn not only said Sodano had "deeply wronged" abuse victims, but he also charged that Sodano had blocked an investigation of Schönborn's predecessor, Cardinal Hans Hermann Gröer, who had been accused of molesting seminarians and monks and who resigned in 1995. Schönborn reportedly said that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wanted to take action, but he lost an internal argument to Sodano.
Schönborn apparently thought that session was off the record, but the content leaked out anyway.
Schönborn was swiftly summoned for a one-on-one with Benedict, and afterward, both Sodano and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the current Secretary of State, joined the conversation. When it was over, the Vatican issued a statement widely seen as a rebuke to Schönborn -- among other things, pointedly reminding him that it's not up to him to pass judgment on a fellow cardinal.
Now, however, Schönborn's willingness to break ranks and speak out in favor of reform on the abuse crisis may actually make him more attractive rather than less.
Schönborn also helped himself during last fall's Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, when most participants ranked him as one of the two or three most impressive figures. People especially liked his suggestion that synod should be less about giving lofty speeches, and more about bishops sharing their practical problems.
The case for Schönborn is easy to make.
First up is raw intellectual chops. Schönborn is a polyglot, comfortable discussing complex points in multiple languages, and a genuine scholar in his own right. During last fall's synod, I asked another cardinal why people seemed drawn to Schönborn, and his answer was simple: "Intelligence attracts."
Second, Schönborn is an intellectual protégé of Benedict XVI, so much so that over the years he's almost been seen as the pope's "beloved son," but he also has keenly pastoral side and a capacity for nuance.
For instance, Schönborn has dropped hints that he'd be open to considering the case for married clergy, and given his patient reaction to the priests' uprising in Austria, it's unlikely that his first response as pope to any form of disagreement would be to crack heads.
Third, having faced the tumult in Austria, one could make a good argument that no senior official in Catholicism has a better feel for the demands of crisis management than Schönborn. Especially at a time when the Vatican is once again engulfed in crisis, that may be a very attractive feature of his résumé for other cardinals.
Fourth, Schönborn was an apostle of what's now known as the new evangelization, meaning the effort to relight the missionary fires of the faith in the heart of the secularized West, well before there was even a word for it. He's written widely on the subject, and at the pastoral grassroots he's encouraged the growth of a variety of spiritual and missionary movements in Austria, many of them appealing in a special way to youth.
Fifth, Schönborn has a high comfort level with the media and is used to playing on a big stage, certainly a plus for anyone who might occupy the world's most visible, and demanding, position of religious leadership.
The case against Schönborn, however, also has some fairly compelling elements.
For one thing, some cardinals may look at the fractious situation in Austrian Catholicism and say to themselves: "This guy has had 18 years to get the situation under control, and it hasn't happened. What reason do we have to believe he'd fare any better as pope?"
Whether that's a fair assessment or not, it's likely to weigh on some cardinals' minds.
Second, Schönborn's tiff with Sodano may help him in terms of public opinion, but it could still be a liability in the College of Cardinals. Not only is Sodano still the dean of the college and an influential figure, but other cardinals may wonder if Schönborn might be inclined to toss them under the bus if the stars aligned that way.
Third, Schönborn is certainly a well-known figure in Vatican circles, but he's never actually worked inside the system in Rome. For cardinals seeking someone who can push through a serious reform of the bureaucracy, that may be a question mark.
Fourth, despite Schönborn's considerable savvy, he occasionally has a penchant for saying or doing things that strike some people as ill-advised.
In 2001, for instance, Schönborn intervened on behalf of American Fr. Joseph Fessio in an effort to have Fessio's Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco granted a measure of autonomy by the Vatican, rendering it immune to the normal authority of the university's president.
That effort not only irritated the university's Jesuit administration, but also then-Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco, who was involved in negotiations to resolve the dispute. It also irked the Vatican's top education official, who saw it as an end-run around his own authority.
More recently, Schönborn has made public statements critical of the theory of evolution and appearing to endorse the "intelligent design" school, which critics see as creationism under another name. After an explosive New York Times opinion piece on the subject in 2005, Schönborn has been forced several times to clarify his views. (The thrust is that he's not opposed to evolution as a scientific theory, but gets off the train when it's lifted into a philosophical position that excludes God.)
Some cardinals may wonder if a prelate with a record of stirring the waters and then trying to back-peddle is what the Vatican needs right now.
Fifth, Schönborn would mark the second German-speaking pope in a row, and some cardinal may think it would be better to find someone from a different part of the world.
Given the widely varying reactions Schönborn tends to provoke, it's especially difficult to assess his chances for the papacy. In the post-Feb. 11 world, however, in which Benedict XVI has already done the previously unthinkable by resigning, it pays not to be overly dogmatic about anything -- including Schönborn's odds in the looming conclave.
Cardinal Péter Erdõ of Budapest, Hungary
John L. Allen Jr. | Feb. 24, 2013 NCR Today
There's a lot of chatter these days about a "Third World pope," and it's a realistic possibility. Politically speaking, however, it overlooks one bit of arithmetic: 61 of the 116 cardinals who will file into the Sistine Chapel still hail from Europe, so discounting candidates from the Old Continent means ruling out half the talent pool a priori.
Moreover, there are Europeans and then there are Europeans. Electing an Italian might strike some cardinals as heading back to the future, but choosing a pope from a long-neglected corner of the continent might seem almost as bold to them as picking someone from, say, Latin America.
If so, many church insiders believe that Cardinal Péter Erdõ of Budapest, Hungary, could get a very serious look.
A canon lawyer by training, Erdõ has been on the ecclesiastical fast track his entire career. In 2001, while he was still an auxiliary bishop and before he'd even turned 50, he was elected to his first term as President of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe. He was reelected to a second five-year term in 2006.
In 2002, he was named the Archbishop of Hungary's premier see at the tender age of 50, and made a cardinal a year later. At 52, he was the youngest cardinal to participate in the conclave that elected Benedict XVI in 2005. Eight years later, there are still only five cardinal electors younger than Erdõ, who's now 60.
Yet as Indiana Jones once put it, "It's not the age, doll, it's the mileage." Despite his relative youth, few would suggest Erdõ lacks the seasoning to lead.
He also represents a persecuted church during the Soviet era, symbolized in the figure of Cardinal József Mindszenty, who was tortured and sentenced to life in prison by a Communist kangaroo court, took refuge in the U.S. embassy in Budapest for 15 years, and died in exile in Vienna in 1975. Earlier this year, Erdõ convinced the Hungarian government to formally drop the case against his predecessor originally filed in 1949.
Given his location in Hungary, where East meets West in Europe, it's no surprise that Erdõ is a leader in Catholic relations with the Orthodox churches, seen by many cardinals as a high ecumenical priority. He's reached out to Jewish leaders too, and was recently blasted by far-right forces in Hungary for having lunch at a well-known Jewish restaurant in Budapest.
Erdõ is certainly a person of trust in Vatican circles. In 2011, he was appointed as a member of the council of cardinals and bishops overseeing the all-important Second Section of the Secretariat of State, responsible for the Vatican's diplomatic relations. In the same year, he was dispatched by the Vatican to lead an investigation of the Pontifical Catholic University in Peru, charged with defiance of church teaching and discipline.
Erdõ also speaks fluent Italian, an important prerequisite for a possible pope.
On most matters Erdõ is seen as a solid conservative, but also as a pastoral figure with a practical grasp of what works at the retail level. During last fall's Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, for instance, many prelates were intrigued by Erdõ's description of "city missions" he's encouraged in Budapest, in which laity visit all the Catholic homes in a given parish to invite them back to church.
Erdõ could also draw surprising support from the developing world. As president of the European bishops he's forged strong ties with the African bishops, staging biannual meetings that alternate between a European venue and one in Africa. As a result, most of the African cardinals know Erdõ and like him.
As president of the European bishops, Erdõ coordinates support for the church across the developing world, earning gratitude from a number of cardinals in those regions.
Americans may be intrigued to know that Erdõ also has on-the-ground experience of the U.S., having won research grants in 1995 and 1996 to study at the University of California in Berkeley.
The case for Erdõ as a possible pope boils down to three key points.
First up, it's the math. His two terms as president of the European bishops suggest he's got solid support from that bloc, and his good ties with the Africans suggest that if his candidacy were to take off, they might come on board. It will take 77 votes to get to a two-thirds majority in this conclave, and the Europeans and Africans together represent 72.
Erdõ could probably count on the support of a few Latin Americans, including Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Peru, whose position Erdõ basically backed in the standoff over the university.
In other words, you start running the numbers, and it's not tough to envision a winning coalition.
Second, Erdõ is seen as a capable administrator, someone tough enough to get things done. That's likely a sine qua non in the current climate within the College of Cardinals, many of whom are determined that the next pope must get the Vatican's internal bureaucracy under control.
Third, Erdõ has good conservative credentials, among other things gaining an honorary doctorate at the Opus Dei-run University of Navarra in 2011. Yet he also profiles as a broker of compromise and consensus, with the capacity to hold a highly disparate body of European bishops together.
He also embraces many of the social justice concerns that tend to loom large for more centrist cardinals. In a 2007 speech to the bishops of Latin America meeting in Brazil, Erdõ voiced solidarity with their concerns, including increasing poverty and environmental destruction.
The knocks on Erdõ can also be laid out in three points.
First of all, he can exhibit a pessimistic streak about the relationship between the church and the broader culture. At the synod last fall, for example, he blasted the media.
"Many of the mass media broadcast a presentation of the Christian faith and history that is full of lies, misinforming the public as to the content of our faith as well as to what makes up the reality of the church," he said.
While many cardinals would probably agree with that, some may wonder if it's the right tonality for a pope they want to reach out to the wider world.
Second, while Erdõ is seen as an effective behind-the-scenes figure, he's not exactly the most dynamic personality in public settings. Some cardinals may wonder if he has the stage presence to be pope.
Third, his youth may cause some cardinals to wonder if a vote for Erdõ would mean an option for an overly lengthy pontificate. The last two popes were well into their eighties when their pontificates ended, meaning "Papa Erdõ" could conceivably rule for twenty years or more.
If he can get past those barriers, however, Erdõ could seem an attractive possibility, especially in a conclave in which there doesn't appear to be any clear front-runner.
If a candidate from outside the West doesn't have traction, the 2013 conclave could still produce a slightly exotic choice, potentially giving the church a "Goulash Pope."
Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of São Paulo, Brazil
John L. Allen Jr. | Feb. 23, 2013 NCR Today
For a long time, Brazil’s great hope to be pope was a veteran of the all-important Congregation for Bishops, giving him a reputation as an insider who knows how to make the Vatican work, but with vast experience too of running a complex archdiocese in the world’s largest Catholic country. Seen as close to the pontiff he served, this Brazilian was never tainted in the mind of some cardinals by association with his country’s progressive liberation theology movement, but wasn’t part of the most ferocious reaction against it either.
We might as well be talking about Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of São Paulo, but in fact the reference in that paragraph is to Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves, a longtime intimate of John Paul II and former prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who died in 2002 from complications related to diabetes.
For the better part of the decade before his death, Moreira Neves was seen as tanto papabile, the leading candidate to be the first pope from Latin America. He seemingly had it all; Roman seasoning, in-the-trenches pastoral mettle, and a reputation for doctrinal orthodoxy as well as a capacity for reconciliation. For most of the 1990s, the Brazilian was at top of virtually every “next pope” short list.
Today, many observers believe the mantle of the leading Latin American papabile has been inherited by the 63-year-old Scherer, who profiles as a sort of remembrance of things past vis-à-vis his renowned Brazilian forerunner.
Born in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul in 1949, Scherer comes from a family of German immigrants from the Saarland. As a seminarian he studied at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, then held a series of teaching and pastoral assignments in Brazilian seminaries before being posted to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops from 1994 to 2001.
Scherer’s next stop was as an auxiliary bishop in São Paulo, typically seen as one of a handful of the world’s most challenging archdioceses. Though more liberal prelates in Brazil initially viewed him with suspicion because of his Roman grooming and basically conservative outlook, Scherer quickly carved out a reputation for pragmatism and brokering consensus, becoming secretary general of the Brazilian bishops’ conference in 2003.
Scherer took over as archbishop of São Paulo in March 2007, and became a cardinal just eight months later.
In broad terms, he’s come to be seen as a more traditional figure than his two predecessors in São Paulo – Cardinal Paulo Arns, who was a champion of the liberation theology movement, and Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, a Franciscan seen as a moderate. Scherer is certainly robustly pro-life. When Brazil’s Supreme Court voted in 2012 to legalize the abortion of fetuses with malformed brains, he made headlines by asking who the court would next define as undeserving of life.
Yet for the most part, Scherer does not come off as a hard liner. On liberation theology, for instance, he’s applauded the movement’s social mission while criticizing its Marxist leanings. Scherer has also embraced the strong environmental concerns of the Brazilian bishops, especially with regard to the Amazon. In 2004, he called on the Brazilian government to strictly control the expansion of farmland in the Amazon, “so that measures are no longer taken after the problem is already there, after the forest is felled and burned.”
Scherer has also offered proof that he’s capable of making his decisions stick, perhaps suggesting to his brother cardinals that he’s tough enough to lead.
In 2012, for instance, the students, professors and staff at the Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo voted to reelect the university’s rector. Scherer, however, acting as the university’s grand chancellor, instead appointed a candidate who had come in third. The students first filed a lawsuit in protest, then went on strike, and even tried to block the new rector from entering her office, surrounding her and the bodyguards she was forced to hire and forcing them to flee in a taxi.
Scherer, however, refused to back down, and today his pick, Anna Cintra, is indeed the university’s rector. (It's worth noting that Scherer spent this political capital in order to name a woman to the university's top post.)
Scherer clearly has the esteem of Benedict XVI. When the pope created the “Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization,” a project that’s the apple of his eye, he named an A-list of heavy-hitter prelates around the world as its first members, and Scherer was one of just two Latin Americans in the mix.
Here’s the argument for Scherer as a papal candidate.
First, at the symbolic level, he would be the developing world’s first pope. His German roots, however, give him a cultural and linguistic tie to the Old World, so in a sense he could strike many cardinals as a “safe” bridge between the church’s past and its future.
Second, Brazil may be the world’s largest Catholic country, but all is not well for the church there. Not only have mushrooming Pentecostal and Evangelical movements siphoned off a significant share of the Catholic population, but in 2007, at the time of Benedict XVI’s trip to Brazil, the state-run Institute of Geography and Statistics estimated that the percentage of Brazilians with no religious affiliation had shot up from 0.7 percent to 7.3 percent in the last two decades.
In that context, the choice of a Brazilian pope could offer a massive shot in the arm to the church in a country destined to be one of the world’s emerging superpowers in the 21st century.
Third, Scherer’s experience in what’s widely seen as one of the Vatican’s most important departments, the Congregation for Bishops, coupled with his reputation for administrative chops, may suggest to some cardinals that he could execute a much-desired reform of the Vatican’s bureaucracy.
He’s dropped hints over the years that he grasps the case for modernizing the Vatican’s operations. In 2009, for instance, at the peak of the global furor over lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, Scherer bluntly conceded that the Vatican hadn’t done a very good job of explaining its logic to the world.
“When we use our own jargon, sometimes everything seems clear to us, but not to anybody else,” Scherer said. “Church spokespersons have to remember that the general culture no longer has a religious formation, so our words or deeds can be misunderstood or misinterpreted.”
Fourth, Scherer’s Italian is very good and he obviously knows the lay of the land in il bel paese, suggesting he would be comfortable serving as the Bishop of Rome.
Fifth, Scherer is by-the-book when it comes to doctrinal orthodoxy, making him a safe choice for conservatives in the College of Cardinals, but he’s also seen as a pragmatist who wouldn’t necessarily impose his own views on the entire church.
There are, however, some significant question marks.
First, despite Scherer’s Vatican résumé, many cardinals say they don’t know a lot about the Brazilian. The nature of working at the Congregation for Bishops is to stay out of the spotlight, meaning he didn’t leave a deep impression during his time in Rome, and since returning to Brazil, Scherer has not maintained a particularly high international profile. Some cardinals are saying that he looks great on paper, but they’d like to get a better sense of the man in the days ahead.
Second, if the cardinals want a “missionary-in-chief,” somebody who can be a compelling salesman for the Catholic message, some Brazilians will tell you that Scherer isn’t necessarily the guy. He’s personally gracious and approachable, but in public settings he can sometimes come off as a bit too buttoned-down and cautious, and few people would really describe him as “dynamic” or “charismatic”. That’s true not just of his personal style, but also the kind of Catholicism he’s willing to embrace.
For instance, Scherer has voiced reservations about Fr. Marcelo Rossi, Brazil’s most famous Catholic priest, whose exuberant liturgies draw tens of thousands of eager Brazilians a former glass factory on the southern edge of São Paulo. (Rossi once actually celebrated Mass for two million people on a Formula One race course.) Scherer has testily said of Rossi that “priests aren’t supposed to be showmen,” but many Brazilians insist that Rossi is actually the “New Evangelization” in action.
Third, given his ancestry, some cardinals may look at Scherer and see not necessarily the first Brazilian pope, but potentially the second German pontiff in a row, and ask themselves if that’s the right profile.
Fourth, the last two Brazilians who came to Rome, Hummes and Cardinal João Braz de Aviz (who currently heads the Congregation for Religious), both have been seen by insiders as nice guys but somewhat inconsequential, so there may be some built-in ambivalence about a Brazilian candidate.
Fifth, some observers question how effective Scherer has been at stemming the tides of Pentecostalism, secularism and religious indifference that have eaten away at Brazil’s Catholic base. It’s unreasonable, of course, to expect anybody to reverse decades of cultural trajectories all by themselves, but some cardinals may nevertheless think, “Do we want the whole church to go the way of Brazil?”
A decade ago, Moreira Neves died before his chances of becoming pope were ever tested in a conclave. Today, despite these reservations, Scherer may well be the man to carry Brazil’s chances one step further – whether he actually is elected is anyone’s guess, he seems certain to get a serious look.