Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: John Allen's Papabile Profiles, Part 3

I've been noticing two media outlets trying to do profiles of the papabile for the upcoming papal conclave. There are ones that I would rate as more serious ones from John Allen at the National Catholic Reporter, and less-informed ones from the Associated Press. I doubt I can fit them all into a single entry, so I'm going to jot Allen's down here for posterity and any future research I might want to do in looking back at the 2013 conclave.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina
French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina
John L. Allen Jr. | Mar. 3, 2013 NCR Today

ROME John Allen is offering a profile each day of one of the most frequently touted papabili, or men who could be pope. The old saying in Rome is that he who enters a conclave as pope exits as a cardinal, meaning there's no guarantee one of these men actually will be chosen. They are, however, the leading names drawing buzz in Rome these days, ensuring they will be in the spotlight as the conclave draws near. The profiles of these men also suggest the issues and the qualities other cardinals see as desirable heading into the election.

While there are still no tracking polls to establish who's got legs as a papal candidate, the 2013 conclave at least has one objective measure not available in 2005: past performance. Many of the cardinals seen as candidates now were also on offer the last time around, and someone who had traction eight years ago could be a contender again.

By that measure alone, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, at least merits a look.

After the dust settled from the election of Benedict XVI, various reports identified the Argentine Jesuit as the main challenger to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. One cardinal later said the conclave had been "something of a horse race" between Ratzinger and Bergoglio, and an anonymous conclave diary splashed across the Italian media in September 2005 claimed that Bergoglio received 40 votes on the third ballot, just before Ratzinger crossed the two-thirds threshold and became pope.

Though it's hard to say how seriously one should take the specifics, the general consensus is that Bergoglio was indeed the "runner-up" last time around. He appealed to conservatives in the College of Cardinals as a man who had held the line against liberalizing currents among the Jesuits, and to moderates as a symbol of the church's commitment to the developing world.

Back in 2005, Bergoglio drew high marks as an accomplished intellectual, having studied theology in Germany. His leading role during the Argentine economic crisis burnished his reputation as a voice of conscience, and made him a potent symbol of the costs globalization can impose on the world's poor.

Bergoglio's reputation for personal simplicity also exercised an undeniable appeal – a Prince of the Church who chose to live in a simple apartment rather than the archbishop's palace, who gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of taking the bus to work, and who cooked his own meals.

Another measure of Bergoglio's seriousness as a candidate was the negative campaigning that swirled around him eight years ago.

Three days before the 2005 conclave, a human rights lawyer in Argentina filed a complaint charging Bergoglio with complicity in the 1976 kidnapping of two liberal Jesuit priests under the country's military regime, a charge Bergoglio flatly denied. There was also an e-mail campaign, claiming to originate with fellow Jesuits who knew Bergoglio when he was the provincial of the order in Argentina, asserting that "he never smiled."

All of that by way of saying, Bergoglio was definitely on the radar screen. Of course he's eight years older now, and at 76 is probably outside the age window many cardinals would see as ideal. Further, the fact he couldn't get over the hump last time may convince some cardinals there's no point going back to the well.

That said, many of the reasons that led members of the college to take him seriously eight years ago are still in place.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, Bergoglio's father was an Italian immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin, and he has four brothers and sisters. His original plan was to be a chemist, but in 1958 he instead entered the Society of Jesus and began studies for the priesthood. He spent much of his early career teaching literature, psychology and philosophy, and early on he was seen as a rising star. From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina, then in 1980 became the rector of the seminary from which he had graduated.

These were the years of the military junta in Argentina, when many priests, including leading Jesuits, were gravitating towards the progressive liberation theology movement. As the Jesuit provincial, Bergoglio insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian spirituality, mandating that Jesuits continue to staff parishes and act as chaplains rather than moving into "base communities" and political activism.

Although Jesuits generally are discouraged from receiving ecclesiastical honors and advancement, especially outside mission countries, Bergoglio was named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and then succeeded the ailing Cardinal Antonio Quarracino in 1998. John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal in 2001, assigning him the Roman church named after the legendary Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmino.

Over the years, Bergoglio became close to the Comunione e Liberazione movement founded by Italian Fr. Luigi Giussani, sometimes speaking at its massive annual gathering in Rimini, Italy. He's also presented Giussani's books at literary fairs in Argentina. This occasionally generated consternation within the Jesuits, since the ciellini once upon a time were seen as the main opposition to Bergoglio's fellow Jesuit in Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.

On the other hand, that's also part of Bergoglio's appeal, someone who personally straddles the divide between the Jesuits and the ciellini, and more broadly, between liberals and conservatives in the church.

Bergoglio has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.

"We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least," Bergoglio said during a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007. "The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers."

At the same time, he has generally tended to accent growth in personal holiness over efforts for structural reform.

Bergoglio is seen an unwaveringly orthodox on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. In 2010 he asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, earning a public rebuke from Argentina's President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Nevertheless, he has shown deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS; in 2001, he visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 AIDS patients.

Bergoglio also won high marks for his compassionate response to the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of a seven-story building housing the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association and the Delegation of the Argentine Jewish Association. It was one of the worst anti-Jewish attacks ever in Latin America, and in 2005 Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, praised Bergoglio's leadership.

"He was very concerned with what happened, Ehrenkranz said. "He's got experience."

Nevertheless, after the conclave of 2005 some cardinals candidly admitted to doubts that Bergoglio really had the steel and "fire in the belly" needed to lead the universal church. Moreover, for most of the non-Latin Americans, Bergoglio was an unknown quantity. A handful remembered his leadership in the 2001 Synod of Bishops, when Bergoglio replaced Cardinal Edward Egan of New York as the relator, or chairman, of the meeting after Egan went home to help New Yorkers cope with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In that setting, Bergoglio left a basically positive but indistinct impression.

Bergoglio may be basically conservative on many issues, but he's no defender of clerical privilege, or insensitive to pastoral realities. In September 2012, he delivered a blistering attack on priests who refuse to baptize children born out of wedlock, calling it a form of "rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism."

The case for Bergoglio in 2013 rests on four points.

First and most basically, he had strong support last time around, and some cardinals may think that they're getting another bite at the apple now.

Second, Bergoglio is a candidates who brings together the first world and the developing world in his own person. He's a Latin American with Italian roots, who studied in Germany. As a Jesuit he's a member of a truly international religious community, and his ties to Comunione e Liberazione make him part of another global network.

Third, Bergoglio still has appeal across the usual divides in the church, drawing respect from both conservatives and moderates for his keen pastoral sense, his intelligence, and his personal modesty. He's also seen as a genuinely spiritual soul, and a man of deep prayer.

"Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord," Bergoglio said in 2001. "I beg the theologians who are present not to turn me in to the Sant'Uffizio or the Inquisition; however, forcing things a bit, I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin."

Fourth, he's also seen as a successful evangelist.

"We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church," Bergoglio said recently. "It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former."

On the other hand, there are compelling reasons to believe that Bergoglio's window of opportunity to be pope has already closed.

First, he's eight years older than in 2005, and at 76 he would only be two years younger than Benedict XVI was when he became pope. Especially on the heels of a papal resignation on the basis of age and exhaustion, many cardinals may balk at electing someone that old, fearing it would set the church up for another shock to the system.

Second, although Bergoglio was a serious contender in 2005, he couldn't attract sufficient support to get past the two-thirds threshold needed to be elected pope. Especially for the 50 cardinals who were inside the conclave eight years ago, they may be skeptical that the results would be any different this time around.

Third, the doubts that circulated about Bergoglio's toughness eight years ago may arguably be even more damaging now, given that the ability to govern. and to take control of the Vatican bureaucracy, seems to figure even more prominently on many cardinals' wish lists this time. Although Bergoglio is a member of several Vatican departments, including the Congregations for Divine Worship and for Clergy, he's never actually worked inside the Vatican, and there may be concerns about his capacity to take the place in hand.

Fourth, there's the standard ambivalence about Jesuits in high office, both from within the order and among some on the outside. That may have been a factor in slowing Bergoglio's progress last time, and nothing has changed the calculus in the time since.

Whether Bergoglio catches fire again as a candidate remains to be seen; one Italian writer quoted an anonymous cardinal on March 2 as saying, "Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to change things." Given his profile, however, Bergoglio seems destined to plan an important role in this conclave – if not as king, then as a kingmaker.

French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
John L. Allen Jr. | Mar. 3, 2013 NCR Today

In the elaborate choreography of a papal transition, the most keenly anticipated moment belongs to the Protodeacon, meaning the senior cardinal in the order of deacons. By tradition, he's the one who steps out onto a balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square to deliver the Habemus Papam announcement, revealing the name of the new pope.

At the moment the Protodeacon is 69-year-old French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, a veteran Vatican diplomat and president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Hence if anybody other than Tauran steps out, the eldest daughter of the church can get a jump start on celebrating the election of the first French pontiff in 635 years.

On paper, Tauran profiles as virtually the perfect anti-candidate, meaning someone who really shouldn't be in the running at all: a history of health scares, a career bureaucrat with zero pastoral experience, and a delicate personality at a time when many cardinals are seeking a strong governor.

Under the heading of "anything's possible," however, Tauran is still taken seriously in some circles as a longshot possibility, perhaps a fallback candidate in case of deadlock.

Born in Bordeaux in 1943, Tauran studied at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University, where he earned a doctorate in canon law in 1973, and then at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Vatican's elite school for diplomats.

Over the course of his career, Tauran served in Vatican missions in the Dominican Republic, Lebanon and Haiti before being named the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States in December 1990, a position he held until 2003.

Today, many observers regard those years as the apogee of recent Vatican diplomacy, the last time the Vatican deployed its moral and political influence on the global stage in truly relevant fashion. That's not to say these efforts were an unmixed success; early in Tauran's tenure, French President François Mitterand blamed the Vatican's hasty recognition of Croatia and Slovenia for triggering war in the Balkans, and at the very end of Tauran's run the Vatican failed to persuade the Bush administration not to invade Iraq.

Yet the mere fact that major global powers such as France and the United States found themselves pondering the Vatican's next move suggests that, for good or ill, the Vatican mattered.

Tauran was especially outspoken in the run-up to the Iraq War, claiming that a U.S. invasion would be a "crime against peace" and a violation of international law. His comments irked the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, James Nicholson, who had previously been the head of the Republican National Committee. Privately, many American conservatives groused that Tauran reflected the usual French anti-Americanism, and celebrated in October 2003 when he was replaced with Italian Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo. (Now a cardinal, Lajolo too will take part in the conclave.)

Tauran was named the Vatican's archivist and librarian in 2003, and made a cardinal in the same year. Despite the red hat, many at the time saw the move as a demotion, or at least a step back, related in part to his diagnosis with Parkinson's disease.

In 2007, however, Tauran staged a comeback. Benedict XVI named him as president of the newly restored Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, an office the pope had originally tried to collapse into the Pontifical Council for Culture. That move was read as watering down the Vatican's commitment to inter-faith dialogue, and Benedict wanted to send a signal that he remained serious about it.

His decision to tap Tauran thus seemed to suggest that the French cardinal still had legs as a serious player.

As head of the council, Tauran has invested considerable energy in Catholic/Muslim relations, often stressing political questions such as religious freedom more than strictly theological matters, and forging ties with governments and statesmen as much as clerics and religious institutions. Not only does that reflect his diplomatic background, but it's perfectly consistent with Benedict's preference for "inter-cultural," as opposed to "inter-religious," dialogue.

For instance, Tauran recently came to the defense of a teenage girl in Pakistan accused of blasphemy for defacing some pages from the Qu'ran, arguing that she's illiterate and handled the pages of the holy book only because they were in a pile of garbage through which the impoverished teen was sifting.

Such interventions are not really the stuff of theological exchange; they're about deploying the moral resources of the Vatican to resolve a legal and political problem, which is what diplomats do.

In 2008, Tauran publicly thanked Muslims for bringing God back into public debates in Europe, anticipating Benedict XVI's "Alliance of Civilizations" speech in Jordan in 2009 in which the pontiff argued that Muslims and Christians are natural allies in the struggle against radical secularism.

Tauran is also a member of the council of cardinals that supervises the Institute for the Works of Religion, better known as the "Vatican Bank," as well as the Second Section of the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Bishops – all important assignments that speak of genuine behind-the-scenes influence.

On a personal level, Tauran is seen as an unpretentious personality with a wry sense of humor, and a wide network of friends. Those friendships are surprisingly ecumenical; for instance, he's close to Anglican luminaries such as John Andrew and Roger Greenacre, and has been known to use an Anglican breviary for his private prayer.

In interviews with various media outlets, including NCR, several cardinals have described three qualities they're looking for in the next pope, aside from personal holiness and a keen mind: A global vision, a capacity to evangelize, and the ability to govern. One could make a good case that Tauran satisfies all three.

He's clearly got the global vision. We're talking about a citizen of the world, a man who's traveled widely, speaks at least four languages comfortably, and has been on the front lines of virtually all the world's major hotspots for the last three decades. Arguably, no one else in the running for the papacy can rival Tauran's command of the global situation.

Given that relations with Islam will have to be at the top of the next pope's agenda, Tauran's expertise in that arena is especially attractive.

Though he's never been a pastor, Tauran's intelligence and tact have the capacity to make Catholicism seem reasonable and a constructive force in the world, helping overcome prejudices secular society often fosters about the church. Moreover, the election of a Frenchman could be a shot in the arm for the church in one of the most thoroughly secular cultures on earth.

In terms of governance, Tauran is an old Vatican hand who knows where the bodies are buried, yet he's not associated with any of the meltdowns of the last eight years. When he was in the Secretariat of State, he had a reputation as a capable administrator who got things done.

In a recent interview with the French news agency I.Media, Tauran said the next pope should be "very open to dialogue with cultures and religions", be prepared to reform the Roman Curia, and be somewhere between 65 and 70.

Sound like anybody you know?

On the other hand, the case against Tauran is formidable.

First, some cardinals simply will not vote for a prelate who's never served as either pastor of a parish or a diocesan bishop. Even the man who took over from Tauran as foreign minister, Lajolo, has said publicly that he would not vote for a career bureaucrat because the church needs a "pastor of souls."

Second, Tauran's health is a real concern. Memories of John Paul's agonizing decline due to Parkinson's disease are still fresh, and while the pope's courage was inspirational, no one is anxious to live through such a long twilight again. Although Tauran's friends say he's fine, and he keeps up a demanding work and travel schedule, there have been recent hints of fragility. Last April, for instance, Tauran collapsed during the Vatican's Easter Sunday Mass and had to be escorted from the altar.

Third, some cardinals may regard Tauran as a bit too moderate, too diplomatic and pragmatic, to offer a principled defense of church teaching vis-à-vis the pressures of an increasingly secular culture in the West. Tauran is seen as a man of détente, but that may not be what some cardinals believe the situation requires.

Fourth, some American cardinals may still feel ambivalent about Tauran's blistering criticism of U.S. foreign policy in 2003. While the American bishops also expressed reservations about the Iraq War, and subsequent experience has proven Tauran prophetic that the first casualties would be Iraq's Christian minority, some Americans felt at the time that Tauran's rhetoric was over the top, occasionally flirting with anti-American prejudice.

Fifth, some cardinals may look at Tauran and see a better candidate for Secretary of State than pope. Even if they admire Tauran, they may think the papacy is better suited to someone else, who could then tap the diplomat for the role of "Prime Minister."

Tauran has figured on several lists of papabili in recent days, usually with the caveat that his health is a question mark. In that sense, Tauran may be among the greatest beneficiaries of Benedict's resignation, because cardinals may think that if his Parkinson's does progress, a "Papa Tauran" would have an exit option.

However, assuming Tauran does indeed step out to deliver the Habemus Papam announcement, we'll know immediately this is one longshot who didn't come through.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras
John L. Allen Jr. | Mar. 2, 2013 NCR Today

Let’s assume you’re a big-time Hollywood producer, and you’re developing a movie about a pope who makes the Catholic church seem fresh and hip. If you were to call Central Casting to fill the part, whoever they send up would probably look a lot like Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa in Honduras.

Now 70, Rodriguez was just 58 when he was named a cardinal in 2001, and he took the world by storm. We’re talking about a tall, handsome prelate who plays both the saxophone and the piano, who’s trained as a pilot, who speaks six languages comfortably, who’s got a wide smile and genuine charisma, and who’s seen as a ferocious champion of the poor. He’s a massive hit on the lecture circuit and in media circles worldwide.

In Honduras itself, Rodriguez has long led the pack in terms of moral authority and social influence. In the 1990s, for instance, he was asked to lead a commission to restore the police force to civilian control. At one point during the deliberations, Rodriguez flew to Houston for a dental emergency, and awoke to discover that he had been named police chief! He scrambled to convey his regrets.

The story is illuminating: In a time of crisis, he was seen as the only figure most Hondurans would trust.

Rodriguez Maradiaga has been such an outspoken opponent of the drug trade in Central America that he’s had to move around with a military escort, given how often narco-terrorists have threatened his life.

When Rodriguez returned to Tegucigalpa from the April 2005 conclave, even though he hadn’t been elected pope, the local daily El Heraldo dedicated a special section to him under the headline, “Our Hope, Our Leader, Our Pride.”

For a time, Rodriguez Maradiaga was widely touted as a pope-in-waiting, such an obvious candidate to be the first pontiff from the developing world that he might as well start sizing curtains for the papal apartments.

Inevitably, however, such acclaim brought backlash, with some fellow prelates grumbling that he seemed to be running for pope, as well as occasions to stumble.

Rodriguez has represented the Holy See to both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, charging that “neo-liberal capitalism carries injustice and inequality in its genetic code.” Yet critics sometimes whisper that his good intentions are not matched by command of the nuts and bolts of economic policy.

In 2006, Rodriguez responded to such criticism.

“We’re not Noble Prize winners in economics,” he said of socially engaged Catholics, “but we know humanity, and much of the time that’s enough.”

In 2002, Rodriguez set off a tempest in the United States by comparing media criticism of the Catholic Church in light of the sex abuse scandals to persecutions under the Roman emperors Nero and Diocletian, as well as Hitler and Stalin. He suggested that the American media was trying to distract attention from the Israel/Palestinian conflict, hinting that it reflected the influence of the Jewish lobby.

Those comments brought angry protests from both sex abuse victims and the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. Earlier this month, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests put out a statement including Rodriguez on a list of candidates for the papacy with a troubling record on the abuse crisis.

Rodriguez later said in an interview with NCR that his intent was to draw attention to the suffering of peoples in the Third World, suggesting that the massive media attention to the scandals in the American press was disproportionate.

Critics also say that Rodriguez played with fire during a 2009 coup in Honduras, appearing to send contradictory signals.

When the left-of-center Manuel Zelaya came to power in 2006, Rodriguez seemed to support him, but later became critical, claiming that Zelaya was becoming radicalized under the influence of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

After the Honduran military seized power in June 2009, Rodriguez first remained silent, then read a statement on national television that seemed to bless the action. Facing criticism over what was perceived as an anti-democratic stance, Rodriguez backpedalled, insisting he merely wanted to avoid bloodshed.

Though it’s more of an insider affair, Rodriguez was also widely perceived as the loser of an internal Vatican power struggle in 2011. Rodriguez serves as the elected president of Caritas Internationalis, whose female secretary general was refused permission to stand for a second term by the Secretariat of State as part of a broader effort to ensure that Caritas moves more closely in the orbit of officialdom.

Defenders of Caritas hoped that Rodriguez could convince his fellow Salesian, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, to back down, but it didn’t work.

Despite that baggage, many observers still take Rodriguez Maradiaga seriously as a papal candidate.

Born in Tegucigalpa in 1942, Rodriguez joined the Salesian order in 1961 and was sent on for higher studies, eventually earning doctorates in philosophy, theology, moral theology and clinical psychology.

Rodriguez did his theological training in the post-Vatican II period. Among other stops, he studied at the Alfonsian Academy in Rome, where he took classes from the legendary liberal moral theologian Bernhard Häring. Rodriguez calls the famed Redemptorist, who died in 1988, an “idol.”

Rodriguez was named auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa in 1978, at the stunningly tender age of 35. He became archbishop in 1993, and a cardinal in 2001.

Despite Rodriguez’s high international profile, observers say that in many ways he’s also been an adroit leader of the local church. In 2010, enrollment at the national seminary was 170, an all-time high for a country where the total number of priests is slightly more than 400. Before Rodriguez took over, there were fewer than 40 candidates.

The case for Rodriguez as pope is easy to make.

First, he would be a captivating symbol of the growth of Catholicism outside the West, and not merely because of the accident of birth. He’s long seen himself as a tribune for the peoples of the developing world; in 2006, distinguished Italian journalist Enzo Romeo published a biography of Rodriguez titled The Oscar in Purple: Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, the Voice of Latin America.

Among many vintage Rodriguez sound-bites decrying injustice, he once said, “The colonialism of the past was based on warships, and the new colonialism on money.”

Second, Rodriguez Maradiaga seems ideally cut out for the part of “Missionary-in-Chief” for the Catholic church, a charismatic polyglot with vast experience of playing on a big international stage. His success generating vocations in Honduras suggests this isn’t just superficial charm, but a real capacity to inspire faith.

Third, Rodriguez would be able to play the role of mediator in many of Catholicism’s internal conflicts. He’s certainly no liberal by secular standards; he’s said publicly that any Catholic politician who supports abortion rights is automatically excommunicated, and in 2009 he backed Benedict XVI’s position that simply distributing condoms will not resolve the problem of HIV-AIDS.

Yet Rodriguez is also a darling of the center-left wing of the church for his lifelong advocacy of social justice concerns, his sympathy for liberation theology, and his theological pedigree as a disciple of Häring.

Fourth, Rodriguez served as the secretary general of CELAM, the bishops’ conference of Latin America, from 1987 to 1991, and as president from 1995 to 1999. As noted, he’s currently the president of Caritas Internationalis. Not only do those positions illustrate the wide respect he enjoys, both across Latin America and in Catholic circles around the world, but they also mean he’s got plenty of administrative experience. At a time when many cardinals believe the next pope has to be a more diligent business manager, that’s an attractive profile.

Fifth, Rodriguez speaks Italian fluently and studied in the eternal city, positioning him to be comfortable in the role of Bishop of Rome.

Yet there’s also sufficient doubt about Rodriguez that most observers still regard him as a longshot.

For one thing, he was widely seen as a compelling candidate the last time around, in 2005, but didn’t have any real traction inside the conclave. He wasn’t even the most successful Latin American candidate eight years ago, who was instead Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Second, Rodriguez Maradiaga is seen by some cardinals as a few notches too far to the left of center. It’s no stretch to imagine headlines in conservative media outlets declaring “Marxist Elected Pope!” should Rodriguez he chosen, and however genuinely concerned most cardinals are about poverty, they may not be ready to risk that sort of perception.

Third, Rodriguez’s decade-old comments on the sex abuse crisis could come back to haunt him, even though he’s tried repeatedly to stress his concern for victims and his support for rooting abusers out of the priesthood. Were he to be elected, Vatican PR personnel would have to work overtime to explain the new pope’s record, and especially in a conclave determined to find someone with clean hands on the abuse issue, that’s likely a real concern.

Fourth, Rodriguez has no experience of working inside the Vatican, and the fallout from the Caritas crackdown may suggest to some cardinals that he lacks the political heft to get things done. If he couldn’t move the ball with a fellow Salesian in charge, they might wonder, how would he really fare in bringing the old guard under control?

For those reasons, Rodriguez Maradiaga seems stalled on most handicapping sheets at the “B” and “C” level of papal candidates. Yet in the wake of one massively surprising twist to this story already, meaning Benedict’s resignation, almost anything seems at least thinkable.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum
John L. Allen Jr. | Mar. 1, 2013 NCR Today

Yesterday, we challenged conventional wisdom by suggesting there's another cardinal who might stand as good a chance as Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila to be the first Asian pope, in Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka. Today, we'll give Africa the same treatment, because in addition to Peter Turkson of Ghana, there's another African currently working in Rome who might strike some cardinals as an equally compelling choice.

Insiders will tell you that Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, President of "Cor Unum," the Vatican's charitable agency, could be a strong runner to become the first African pope since Gelasius I in 492.

We're talking about a man with far more Roman seasoning than Turkson, since Sarah studied at the Gregorian University in the 1960s and has worked in the Vatican since 2001 in positions considered more consequential. He's also got plenty of pastoral experience as the archbishop of Conakry in Guinea for 22 years, and he speaks French, English and Italian comfortably.

Sarah is seen as fairly conservative and fairly low-profile, a man who doesn't court media attention and who, perhaps as a result, has no track record of controversial or potentially embarrassing utterances. Moreover, he's also seen as an effective behind-the-scenes player, who recently prevailed in a standoff over the Rome-based charitable federation Caritas Internationalis.

Add all that up, and it's not hard to see why Vatican-watchers take Sarah seriously, perhaps not as a front-runner, but someone who could be waiting in the wings.

As a bonus feature, Sarah is 67, right in the wheelhouse of what many cardinals believe to be right age for a papacy that's neither too long nor too short.

Sarah was born in 1945 in what was then known as French Guinea, and entered the seminary in Ivory Coast. He returned in 1960 to continue his studies at home, but after a year the Marxist-inspired Democratic Party of Guinea nationalized all Catholic schools, including the seminary, and Sarah and his fellow candidates for the priesthood had to regroup. He eventually finished his undergraduate studies in Senegal, then headed for Rome to the Gregorian, followed by a stint at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem.

After just 10 years as a priest, Sarah was named the archbishop of Conakry in 1979, when he was barely 34 years old.

(As a footnote, Sarah was consecrated as a bishop by none other than Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, who served as the nuncio to Western Africa from 1966 to 1967 and got to know the promising young Guinean priest. Benelli went on to become the über-powerful substitute under Paul VI, earning nicknames such as "the Berlin Wall" and the "Vatican Kissinger." Lots of people still remember Benelli's tenure as the golden years of the Secretariat of State, when the trains really ran on time, and Sarah's connection might give him a boost with cardinals old enough to remember -- including, for instance, Giovanni Battista Re of Italy and Justin Rigali of the United States, both of whom worked under the famed substitute and came to be known as "Benelli's widows.")

In 1985, Sarah was elected president of the bishops' conference of Guinea, and became the primary interlocutor with the government in the chaotic period after the death of the Marxist dictator Ahmed Sékou Touré in 1984.

Sarah became an outspoken critic of authoritarian and corrupt regimes. When Pope John Paul II visited Guinea in 1992, Sarah publicly asked the pope to push African leaders to clean up their act.

"Tell the African governments that reforms will be meaningless if they are tainted in blood, provoking considerable human and economic catastrophes," Sarah told the pope.

When the ruling regime in Guinea tossed opposition leader Alpha Conde into jail in 1999 after a disputed election, Sarah publicly demanded his release.

While still in Conakry, Sarah was also elected president of the Episcopal Conference of West Africa, another sign that his fellow bishops saw him as a leader.

In October 2001, Sarah was called to Rome to become the secretary, or number two official, at the powerful Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (better known as "Propaganda Fidei.") In that role, he became seen as a go-to figure inside the Vatican for bishops from all over the developing world.

Nine years later Sarah was tapped to take over at Cor Unum from German Cardinal Paul Cordes, symbolically expressing a transition in leadership of the church's charitable enterprise from the first world to the developing world.

On what Americans know as the "culture wars," meaning debates over abortion, homosexuality and the family, there's no doubt Sarah profiles as a staunch conservative.

During the 2009 Synod for Africa, he condemned a Western "theory of gender" which he said is trying to push Africa "to write laws favorable to … contraceptive and abortion services (the concept of 'reproductive health') as well as homosexuality."

All this, Sarah said, "is contrary to African culture and to the human truths illuminated by the divine Revelation in Jesus Christ." Africa, he said, "must protect itself from the contamination of intellectual cynicism in the West."

In May 2012, the Vatican issued new rules for the Rome-based federation of Catholic Charities, Caritas Internationalis, which stipulated that Cor Unum will monitor the group's Catholic identity, that it must approve any cooperative agreement between Caritas and other NGOs, and that top officials of Caritas must swear loyalty oaths before Cor Unum's president.

Insiders saw the rules not only as a way of bringing Caritas more closely into the orbit of officialdom, but as a major victory for Cor Unum and Sarah.

In December 2012, the Vatican issued new rules for Catholic charities generally, also aimed at beefing up Catholic identity and ties to the hierarchy. In signing the document, Benedict XVI wrote that he did so upon Sarah's recommendation.

Among other things, the rules state that a Catholic charity may not take money "from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary to the church's teaching."

At the time, a European veteran of Catholic charities familiar with the drafting process for the new rules told NCR that Sarah played a leading role. The concern over taking money, he said, reflected Sarah's African experience. During the 1980s and 1990s, this observer said, Sarah became concerned that U.N. agencies and major NGOs were using their money and influence to undercut traditional African values.

The case for Sarah as pope is based on three primary considerations.

First, he would symbolically express the phenomenal growth and dynamism of Catholicism outside the West. Africa's Catholic population exploded from 1.9 million in 1900 to 130 million in 2000, a growth rate of almost 7,000 percent, and Sarah would put a face on this burgeoning Catholic footprint.

Second, Sarah is a classic embodiment of the prevailing ethos among many African prelates – deeply traditional on the culture wars, yet strongly progressive on social justice issues such as the environment, war and peace, economic equality and good government. In other words, he could draw support from both conservatives and moderates in the College of Cardinals, given that each bloc can find something to like.

Third, Sarah is an old Roman hand with a track record for getting things done. Many cardinals believe the next pope has to be more of a business manager, beginning with a serious reform of the Roman Curia, and might be scared off by candidates from the developing world who are outsiders to the Vatican, but that fear doesn't apply in Sarah's case.

On the other hand, Sarah remains a longshot for the papacy for several reasons.

First, many cardinals are looking for a pope who can be a successful evangelizer, the secular equivalent of which is a "salesman." In other words, they want a pope who can make a compelling case for Catholicism in the competitive lifestyle marketplace of the 21st century, which implies good communications skills and a degree of media savvy.

Sarah, however, is more of a behind-the-scenes figure than a showman. He comes off as warm, funny, and modest in person, but he's not always comfortable playing on a big stage.

Second, Sarah isn't that well known to many cardinals, despite having been in Rome since 2001. Precisely because he's kept a low profile, he's someone they've met at synods of bishops and other Vatican events, but he hasn't always left a strong impression. As a result, some cardinals may feel that casting a vote for Sarah would be akin to rolling the dice, and they may not be in a gambling mood.

Sarah has never been a major public personality, and some cardinals may wonder how he'd hold up under the intense spotlight that's always trained on the papacy.

Third, having a second African in the race could risk splitting the vote among those cardinals who think an African pope would be a good idea. Actually, one could argue that yet another African could also get a look, Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, who's arguably the biggest personality and most natural evangelist among the African prelates.

Despite those considerations, anything's possible in a conclave that seems, at least for now, to lack a clear favorite.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka
John L. Allen Jr. | Feb. 28, 2013 NCR Today

During the run-up to the conclave, most of the buzz around papal candidates is generated by pundits and church-watchers, as opposed to the cardinals who will actually vote. As an index of broader opinion in the church, the buzz is often illuminating; as a guide to what might actually happen, it can be of limited utility.

The "Great Asian Hope" in the 2013 conclave could turn out to be a case in point.

On the buzz meter, the clear winner is Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines, whose nickname is "Chito." He's young, articulate, smiling, and media-savvy, with a reputation for simplicity and humility. Tagle is hugely popular back home, and tends to wow people wherever he goes.

Among the cardinals, however, there's another Asian who might seem a more compelling choice: Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (formally, Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don) of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

For one thing, Ranjith is 65, ten years older than Tagle, and probably right in line with the ideal age profile: Not as young as John Paul was in 1978, meaning he wouldn't have an overly long papacy, but not as old as Benedict XVI in 2005, meaning the church probably wouldn't face another transition too soon.

For another, Ranjith has extensive Vatican experience, so he wouldn't require the same on-the-job training as a complete outsider. He served as an official in the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (better known as "Propaganda Fidei"), as the pope's nuncio to Indonesia and East Timor, and then as Secretary for the Congregation of Divine Worship. He also studied in Rome at the Urbanian University and is proficient in Italian, usually seen as a core requirement for a prospective pope.

For a third, Ranjith profiles as a "Ratzingerian," meaning a churchman cut from the same cloth as Benedict XVI. That's especially the case regarding his attitudes on liturgy, supporting the older Latin Mass and rejecting secularizing tendencies in Catholic worship.

In 1994, as a young bishop, Ranjith led a commission that denounced the theological work of Sri Lankan theologian Tissa Balasuriya, charging that he had questioned original sin and the divinity of Christ, as well as supporting women's ordination. The resulting furor first brought Ranjith into contact with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who backed his position.

For a fourth, Ranjith has real pastoral experience, having served as the Archbishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka since 2005.

Cardinals looking to reach out to the developing world, while also consolidating the intellectual and spiritual legacy of Benedict XVI, might find these four elements of Ranjith's curriculum vitae awfully enticing.

Born in the small Sri Lankan town of Polgahawela in 1947, Ranjith is the eldest of fourteen children. In a 2006 interview, he said his vocation was stirred by the example of a French missionary from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who served in his parish.

After earning his undergraduate degree in theology from the Urbanian, Ranjith earned his licentiate at the prestigious Pontifical Biblical Institute in 1978, with a thesis centered on the Epistle to the Hebrews. (While there, he studied under two future Jesuit cardinals – Carlo Maria Martini and Albert Vanhoye.) Ranjith also did some postdoctoral work at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Marked out from the first as a rising star, in 1991 Ranjith became an auxiliary bishop of Colombo at the tender age of 43. He coordinated John Paul II's January 1995 visit to Sri Lanka, and one can infer that he acquitted himself well from the fact that he was named the first bishop of Ratnapura nine months later.

Among other things, Ranjith promoted inter-faith dialogue. Buddhism is Sri Lanka's dominant religion, but the country also has significant pockets of Hindus and Muslims, while Christians make up roughly seven percent of the population of 20 million.

In 2001, Ranjith was brought to Rome to work at Propaganda Fidei and was simultaneously named president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, giving him a wide network of contacts across the developing world.

Ranjith was dispatched in 2004 as the papal ambassador to Indonesia and East Timor, becoming the first Sri Lankan to serve as a nuncio. It was an unusual move, since Ranjith was not a graduate of Rome's Accademia Ecclesiastica and did not come out of the Vatican diplomatic corps. At the time, there were whispers that perhaps Ranjith had been "exiled" because he was seen as slightly too conservative for some prelates, either in the developing world or his superiors at Propaganda Fidei.

That cloud seemed to lift nine months later, when the new pope, Benedict XVI, called Ranjith back to Rome to serve as the number two official at the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Over the next four years, Ranjith became something of a bête noire for liturgical progressives. He criticized communion in the hand, saying it was not envisioned by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and became widespread only after its "illegitimate introduction" in some countries. When Benedict authorized wider celebration of the old Latin Mass in 2007, Ranjith openly blasted bishops who didn't move quickly to implement it, accusing them of "disobedience ... and even rebellion against the pope."

Four years later he was moved out of Rome again, this time to become the Archbishop of Colombo. Some read this as a second exile; Italian Vatican writer Andrea Tornielli wrote at the time that Ranjith was "considered by his adversaries [to be] too close to the traditionalists and Lefebvrists." Others argued that it was a genuine promotion, intended to give Ranjith pastoral seasoning as the head of the diocese and to set him up as Benedict's point man across Asia.

He certainly didn't waste time. Four months after arriving, Rannith issued new liturgical rules for Colombo requiring that communion be received on the tongue and in a kneeling position, forbidding laity from preaching, and barring priests from bringing customs from other religions into Catholic worship.

During the successive four years, Ranjith has profiled as a staunch conservative on doctrinal matters and sexual morality, while also embracing the peace-and-justice elements of Catholic social teaching.

"Love for the liturgy and love for the poor, two true and proper treasures of the church, one might say, have been the compass of my life," he said. Ranjith once added that although he's not an "adherent," he shares some of the values of the "no-global" movement protesting neo-liberal models of economic globalization.

During a meeting with clergy in October 2012, he said that Sri Lanka should not sacrifice its moral standards in exchange for foreign development aid.

"We don't want gay marriages and red light districts here, and we can also do without development that is achieved after compromising the environment," he said.

He also showed that he can throw some political weight around. In 2010, he vowed to boycott all state functions until a member of Mother Teresa's Daughters of Charity who had been arrested for allegedly trafficking in babies was released. The charges were swiftly dropped.

Shortly after arriving, Ranjith also spoke out against proposals in the West to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka for alleged war crimes during its sixteen-year civil war, aimed at suppressing an independence movement among the largely Hindu Tamil minority. Ranjith comes from the majority Sinhalese people, but the Catholic church in Sri Lanka includes members of both ethnic groups, and by reputation Ranjith has promoted reconciliation.

The case for him as pope rests on three pillars.

First, his closeness to Benedict XVI, both personally and in terms of his broad theological and liturgical outlook, means that he would be seen as a vote for continuity with the policies of the last two papacies.

Some of Benedict's protégés might be inclined to see Ranjith favorably, such as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, whom Ranjith described in 2006 as a "dear friend."

Second, as an Asian, he would symbolically express the church's desire to reach out to the developing world, and to affirm the two-thirds of the Catholic population of 1.2 billion that now lives outside the West. Yet as a veteran Roman, he could be seen as a safe choice as the first pope from the developing world, someone who knows the Western mind and can navigate its culture.

Third, he has deep Vatican experience and has also tasted what it's like to be on the losing side of its internal tensions, which may suggest to some cardinals that he's the man to lead a reform of the bureaucracy. His résumé also suggests he has the toughness to push through changes over what is likely to be significant resistance.

Yet there are also some strong entries in Ranjith's debit column.

First, he may be a little too traditionalist for some of the moderates in the College of Cardinals – "more Ratzingerian than Ratzinger himself," as some put it. In 2006, he said of the Lefebvrists that he wasn't a fan, but that "what they sometimes say about the liturgy, they say for good reason."

Second, Ranjith has a profile as an insider, someone who speaks a distinctively Catholic argot and whose priorities are often focused on the internal life of the church. That may not be the right skills set for some cardinals who say they want a "Missionary in Chief," someone who can move the Catholic product in a competitive post-modern religious marketplace by appealing to the outside world.

Third, the fact that Ranjith was twice sent packing from the Vatican, whatever the actual motives, may suggest to some cardinals that he has a track record of ruffling feathers. If they're looking for someone who can bring together diverse camps and mediate some of the church's internal tensions, this history may give them pause.

Despite those drawbacks, Ranjith may still be the most plausible Asian candidate to pass muster among the 115 cardinals who will cast ballots in this election. He may not have the charisma or media sex appeal of other "third world" candidates like Tagle or Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, but to some cardinals he could seem an ideal one-two punch: Symbolically a candidate from outside the West, substantively a disciple of Benedict XVI.
Tags: catholicism, conclave, hierarchy, media, theological notebook, vatican

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