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Theological Notebook: John Allen's Papabile Profiles, Part 4

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 Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, Mexico
Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz of Brazil, Prefect of the Congregation for Religious
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, Mexico
John L. Allen Jr. | Mar. 9, 2013 NCR Today

By consensus, if there were a Latin American Ratzinger in 2013, meaning a towering figure who seems as compelling a choice as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did in 2005, he’d probably be at the top of most handicapping sheets.

In a pre-conclave interview, Italian Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio said out loud what many of his brother cardinals may be thinking about where to go shopping for a pope: “It’s time to look outside Italy and Europe, in particular considering Latin America.”

Surveying the field, however, there’s no one slam-dunk Latin American runner, but rather several plausible candidates. The trick is to figure out which one stands the best shot of putting together the magic 77 votes that represent a two-thirds majority.

Facing that math problem, Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, Mexico, might just be a good solution. In recent days, reports in the Spanish-language press have suggested that some other Latin American eminences are floating Robles’ name in the pre-conclave discussions.

(The thought may have occurred to him too; in a press conference shortly after Benedict’s resignation announcement, he said “it’s possible” that a Mexican could be chosen to be pope.)

Just 64, Robles certainly has a lot going for him. He lived at Rome's Pontifical Mexican College from 1976 to 1979 while studying at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University, and he was part of the Mexican delegation to the 1997 Synod for America. He also holds a great calling card in Italian popular Catholicism, which is a strong personal devotion to Padre Pio.

Robles is widely considered less conservative, both theologically and politically, than his fellow Mexican cardinals. He comes from a working-class family in Jalisco, and though he's never been part of the liberation theology movement, he has good relationships with progressive sectors of the Mexican church.

He served from 2003 to 2011 as the Archbishop of Monterrey, a city seen as Mexico’s commercial and financial nerve center with the highest per capita income in the country. While there, Robles repeatedly prodded his flock to be sensitive to the poor.

“Ill-gotten and ill-used riches close our heart,” Robles said in a typical homily. “We can pass our lives without even realizing the existence of the poor, the needy, the people who require our help.”

Robles commands the respect of his brother bishops in Mexico, having been elected in November 12 to take over as president of the episcopal conference. He’s also drawn good marks for his candor and lack of defensiveness, among other things offering an apology in a recent homily for “the scandals of those who lead the church.”

He also enjoys strong papal support. Benedict named Robles to Guadalajara in 2011, after he had already become a cardinal in Monterey, even though incumbent Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez was just 78. That created the anomaly of two cardinal-electors in the same diocese, something a tradition-conscious pope like Benedict prefers to avoid, but he was willing to step outside his comfort zone in order to move Robles into the spot.

Robles is also the lone Spanish-speaking Latin American named as a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, a project which is the apple of Benedict XVI’s eye. Benedict also tapped Robles to serve as one of three co-presidents of last fall’s synod of bishops on the New Evangelization.

Because Latin America until recently had been an almost homogenously Catholic zone, many Latin American prelates don’t have much experience in ecumenism or inter-faith dialogue. Robles, however, has led the Mexican bishops’ commission on inter-faith relations and served as the moderator of the Latin American and Caribbean Council of Religious Leaders-Religions for Peace, which brings together representatives of various religions.

Over the years, he’s shown a willingness to think outside the box in adapting to changing circumstances. During the 1997 Synod of Bishops for America, for instance, Robles Ortega floated the concept of “personal parishes” in Latin America’s mega-cities to appeal to people with similar interests. These custom parishes, he suggested, could be run by laity under the supervision of a priest.

Robles has had serious in-the-trenches pastoral experience, having led complex archdioceses in both Monterrey and Guadalajara. He’s also displayed some courage, publicly warning both political parties and social organizations that they should guard against infiltration in their ranks by drug dealers. He’s also a good prelate for the digital age, with both a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

In the period when cardinals were still giving interviews, they highlighted three basic qualities they’re looking for in the next pope:

A global vision, especially the capacity to embrace the two-thirds of the Catholic population that lives outside the West;
A capacity to lead the church in the New Evangelization;
An ability to govern, with some experience of Rome considered a definite plus in that regard.
Looked at the way, it’s not hard to see why Robles Ortega might strike some cardinals as more or less just what the doctor ordered.

Robles was born in 1949 in Mascota, a town in Jalisco state, as the third of sixteen children, where the first stirrings of his vocation began as an altar boy. (His father died on Christmas day in 2012.) After ordination to the priesthood in 1976, he was sent to Rome for studies at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University.

He became the auxiliary bishop of Toluca in April 1991, at just 42 years of age. In 1996 he took over as the bishop of the diocese, before being named the Archbishop of Monterey in 2003. He was made a cardinal in November 2007, and then named the new Archbishop of Guadalajara in November 2011.

Here’s the case for Robles as pope.

First, he’s got a decade of experience in governing large ecclesiastical infrastructures, combined with just enough Roman seasoning that he wouldn’t enter the papacy as a complete naïf about the ways of the Eternal City. In a conclave in which governance is a major issue, but in which the Vatican’s old guard is also on the defensive, this outsider/insider combination could make Robles very attractive.

Second, Robles profiles as a reconciler in the decades-old division in Latin American Catholicism between progressives, especially the liberation theologians, and conservatives. Not only could he therefore straddle divides within the College of Cardinals, but he could also come off as someone who could heal divisions in the broader church.

Third, because of the close ties between the bishops’ conferences in Mexico and the United States, Robles could probably count on significant support from the 11 U.S. cardinals if his candidacy became serious, along with the 19 cardinals from Latin America.

Fourth, many cardinals have identified the New Evangelization as a key priority for the next pope, and Robles’ background on that project could be an electoral asset.

Fifth, Robles won good marks for his performance at the synod on New Evangelization last fall, where his co-presidents were Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo – two men who might be able to galvanize Asian and African support for Robles.

As always, however, there are also reservations.

First, Robles may be seen as a bit too much of an outsider to be able to truly get control of the Vatican bureaucracy. Studying in Rome as a seminarian is not the same thing as working inside the system, learning to master its ways and means.

Second, while Robles comes off as a smiling and pastoral figure, Mexican observers also say he’s maintained a fairly low public profile and isn’t seen as particularly charismatic. He might strike some cardinals as a reasonably safe choice, but perhaps not a terribly inspiring one.

Third, the fact that Robles has at least kept lines of communication open with the more progressive sectors of the Mexican church may win him some street credibility, but it also may raise concerns among some cardinals about whether he’d be willing to drawn doctrinal or political lines in the sand if the situation demanded it.

Fourth, there’s a sense in which the logic for Robles rests on the part of the world he represents, and the fact that there’s no faction or group that has any particular bone to pick with him. While those are positive things, they may not strike some cardinals as quite enough to put someone on the Throne of Peter.

Still, there is a discernible buzz growing around Robles in Rome as we draw nearer to the opening of the conclave on Tuesday, which is perhaps in equal measure a reflection of his own qualities and the lack of a clear frontrunner.

Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz of Brazil, Prefect of the Congregation for Religious
John L. Allen Jr. | Mar. 8, 2013 NCR Today

Say the words “Brazilian pope” in Rome, and most people assume you’re talking about the candidacy of Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of São Paulo, recently floated in the Italian media as part of a “ticket” being put forward by the Vatican’s old guard, with one of their own slated to take over Secretary of State.

Some observers take those reports at face value, while others believe they’re calculated to damage Scherer’s chances by linking him to what Sandro Magister describes as “the feudal lords of the curia.”

In any event, Scherer is not the only Brazilian waiting in the wings. There’s another runner from the world’s largest Catholic country, whose humble roots and pastoral outlook could make him an attractive choice: 65-year-old Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, who generally goes by the simple appellation of “Dom João.”

The politics of the 2013 conclave may leave the door open to a compromise candidate between two factions which, at first blush, seem unlikely allies. Devoted Ratzingerians are furious at poor performance by Vatican mandarins, which in their view too often left Benedict XVI vulnerable to criticism and may have hastened his decision to step down, and they’re looking to shake things up. Moderates, meanwhile, would like a pope a bit closer to the ideological and theological center.

Both currents could intersect in Bráz.

Born in the city of Mafra in southern Brazil in 1947, Bráz de Aviz has served since January 2011 as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, better known as the “Congregation for Religious.”

Braz comes from a poor family, with four brothers and three sisters, one of whom has Down’s Syndrome. His father was a butcher, and their surroundings were so rural that when a child was born, the family had to travel by horse-drawn carriage for 25 miles to have the baby baptized.

Braz entered a minor seminary in 1958, at the tender age of 11, which was run by the Fathers of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions.

At the age of 16, he began a lifelong friendship with the Focolare, a word which in Italian means “hearth” or “fireside.” It’s a Catholic movement created by lay woman Chiara Lubich during World War II to promote unity and universal brotherhood, and it currently operates in 182 nations with some 100,000 members.

Braz was introduced to Focolare by a chance meeting with a Cubist painter. At the time, he said, he was very attracted by the new theology of liberation and its passion for the poor, but worried about the way it seemed to draw some clergy into ideological radicalism. The Focolare, he said, helped him maintain “the right balance”.

“They taught me that I always need to try to understand the path that the other person is on, how they see things, and to learn from it,” Braz said in a 2011 NCR interview. “It’s very important to find the good in what other person thinks and feels, not to condemn it or try to destroy it. For me, there is no other path.”

Certainly no one can accuse Bráz of having lived a sheltered life, disconnected from the sufferings of ordinary people in the developing world.

As a young priest, Bráz was once on his way to a village to say Mass when he stumbled upon an armored car robbery. He was shot during the crossfire, with bullets perforating his lungs and intestines and one eye. Although he survived and surgeons were able to save his eye, he still carries fragments of those bullets in his body.

First named an auxiliary bishop of Vitória in 1994, at the age of 47, Bráz de Aviz was tapped as bishop of Ponta Grossa in 1998, archbishop of Maringá in 2002, and finally archbishop of Brasilia, the national capital, just two years later in 2004.

Despite his rapid rise up the career ladder, Bráz de Aviz generally maintained a low public profile. When news of his elevation to a Vatican position broke in January 2011, the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo described him as “discrete and not well-known”.

Yet he could occasionally show some spunk. In 2006, Bráz publicly rebuked politicians for giving themselves a raise, asking how they could defend making over $400 a day while most of the people they represent live on $6 a day.

Church sources in Brazil recall Bráz as a centrist, not exactly part of the liberation theology current, but also distant from the church’s traditionalist wing.

One Brazilian journalist who covers the church told NCR that during his time in Brasilia, Bráz de Aviz was seen by supporters of the older Latin Mass as an “enemy.”

Bráz also kept some distance from the progressives. In December 2008, he threatened to boycott a gathering of Franciscans if Leonardo Boff – a renowned liberation theologian who left the order and the priesthood in 1992 – was on the same program. Sources said Bráz’s problem wasn’t Boff’s defense of the poor, but his advocacy of a “church from below” against the hierarchy.

During his brief stint in the Vatican, Bráz has carved out a reputation as a reconciler, including his approach to the still-thorny relationship with women religious in the United States. His efforts began even before he got to Rome, in an interview he gave to NCR the day his appointment was announced.

“I want to learn from them and walk with them,” he said of the sisters. “You have to see people up close, get to know them, what will help them overcome whatever problem there is.”

That profile hasn’t gone down well with critics, who charge that Bráz and his former deputy, American Archbishop Joseph Tobin, sent mixed signals with respect to the insistence upon orthodoxy and obedience coming from other Vatican officials.

Bráz has also spoken in blunt terms about the Legionaries of Christ, the order founded by the late Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who is acknowledged to have committed sexual abuse and misconduct.

“What is most worrying,” Bráz said in 2012, “is that at times the Legionaries aren’t aware of what is happening within their own movement.” An “overly severe discipline”, he said, is partly to blame, as well as the fact that the leaders have too much power, “sometimes in matters which the church has never relinquished authority over, like the questions of spiritual guidance and confessions.”

On the broader question of the clerical abuse crisis, he’s stressed compassion for victims: “We have to be concerned about the sanctity of the church, but we also have to be very close to those who were wounded, the victims,” he said in 2011.

In an interview with a Brazilian paper the day after Benedict XVI announced his resignation, Bráz argued that the times demand a church with “great listening skills.” (He also, by the way, appeared to hint that the time may not yet be ripe for a pope from the developing world.)

Bráz de Aviz is the fourth Brazilian to head a Vatican department, after the late Cardinal Angelo Rossi, who led the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples from 1970 to 1984 and later the Apostolic Patrimony of the Holy See, and who at one stage was the dean of the College of Cardinals; the late Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves, who headed the Congregation for Bishops from 1998 to 2000; and Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who led the Congregation for Clergy from 2006 to 2010.

Each of those Brazilians at one point was considered a serious candidate for the papacy, though obviously none was ever elected.

There are four core reasons why Bráz could be the one to break through.

First, he’s had two years of Vatican seasoning, but he’s not associated with the ruling elite. Insiders know, for example, that Bráz appealed to keep Tobin in the number two position in his office, but that effort foundered in October 2012 when Tobin was named the Archbishop of Indianapolis. Some cardinals might see him as a good bet to break the mold – somebody who knows the system from the inside, but who also knows what it feels like to be steamrolled by it.

Second, his election would put a face on the two-thirds of the Catholic population that lives outside the West. It would also deliver a massive shot in the arm to the church in Brazil, which is facing defections both to mushrooming Pentecostal and Evangelical movements and to a rising tide of religious indifference.

Third, cardinals convinced that the next pope must be an effective evangelist might see Bráz as a compelling pitchman for the faith – a warm, avuncular figure skilled at reconciling diverse currents in the church and in engaging the outside world.

Fourth, cardinals most committed to the church’s social justice tradition would see Bráz as a strong carrier of that agenda.

Yet there are equally compelling reasons why Bráz faces an uphill climb.

First, his profile as a gentle and compassionate figure makes him personally attractive, but it may also raise doubts as to whether he has the grit necessary to really bring the Vatican bureaucracy to heel.

Second, he may be seen as slightly too centrist, too given to dialogue rather than proclamation, for cardinals who believe the next pope must carry forward the strong emphasis on Catholic identity fostered under John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Third, Bráz may have difficulty attracting American votes. At the peak of the standoff between the Vatican and American nuns, American Cardinal William Levada was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it was well known that Levada and the Bráz/Tobin team were not always on the same page.

In a June 2012 interview with NCR, his last before leaving his Vatican post, Levada alluded to that tension, saying “it creates a perception that the Holy See is not united in its approach.”

Levada remains an influential figure, especially among his fellow Americans. By themselves the Americans only command eleven votes out of 115, but they have influence beyond their numbers.

Fourth, Bráz has not kept a high profile since coming to Rome, and is often not terribly well known to cardinals from other parts of the world. That’s likely an obstacle in a conclave in which, for a variety of reasons, many cardinals are not inclined to roll the dice on an unknown quantity.

That said, this butcher’s son, who carries the reminders of hardship and danger in his own body, could nevertheless be an attractive compromise candidate – an insider who’s also an outsider, a man who listens, and who has a beguiling personal story to tell the world.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
John L. Allen Jr. | Mar. 6, 2013 NCR Today

Quite obviously, the cardinals preparing to elect the next pope aren't looking at this as a PR exercise. If they were, they wouldn't have shut down their access to the media, thereby ensuring that speculation and external voices are likely to dominate coverage over the next few days.

If they were thinking in terms of news cycles, however, they might well ask: Who among us would give the church the best day-one story as the next pope?

Were that the question, 66-year-old Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni would be a pretty good answer.

Consider this headline, which would likely be the main narrative if Filoni were elected: "The pope who didn't blink when bombs fell on Baghdad."

The reference is to April 2003, when Filoni was serving as the papal ambassador in Iraq. At a time when other diplomats fled for safety, as well as U.N. officials and journalists, Filoni refused to leave, saying he couldn't abandon the local Catholic community and other suffering Iraqis.

"If a pastor flees in moments of difficulty," he said later, "the sheep are lost."

Filoni remained in the country for the aftermath of the war, as Christians found themselves primary targets amid rising chaos. He refused to adopt special security measures, wanting to face the same risks as locals who didn't have access to guards and armored vehicles. He said his aim was to be seen "as an Iraqi, by the Iraqis."

That choice almost cost him dearly in February 2006, when a car bomb went off outside the nunciature, demolishing a garden wall and smashing window panes, but luckily leaving no one hurt. Afterward, a Muslim contractor showed up with 30 workers to repair the damage out of respect for the solidarity Filoni had shown.

Born in Taranto, Italy, in 1946, Filoni's seminary studies coincided with the period of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and his episcopal motto is Lumen gentium Christus, recalling the council's dogmatic constitution on the church.

In a 2012 interview, Filoni said one of the ways he survived the upheaval of the 1970s, when he was doing graduate study, was by living in a parish rather than a college. As a result, he said, he kept contact with the practical concerns of real people instead of getting caught up in ideological debates.

Filoni earned doctorates in both philosophy and canon law from the Pontifical Lateran University. He also has a degree from Rome's Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali, a prestigious secular institution, where he studied "techniques of public opinion," specializing in journalism.

He entered the Vatican's diplomatic service and was posted to a series of increasingly challenging assignments. He served in Sri Lanka from 1982 to 1983; Iran from 1983 to 1985, shortly after the Khomeini revolution; Brazil from 1989 to 1992; Hong Kong from 1992 to 2001, where he opened a "study mission" on mainland China; Jordan and Iraq from 2001 to 2006; and the Philippines from 2006 to 2007.

These were hardly pleasure cruises. Filoni was in Tehran during the bloodiest period of the Iran/Iraq war and in China for the upheaval caused by the reforms of Deng Xiaoping.

Filoni is especially well-versed on China, given his decade in Hong Kong and his fascination with the country and its people.

Since May 2011, Filoni has served as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, deepening his contacts with the church across Africa and Asia. It's tough to name a geopolitical priority in the early 21st century -- China, Islam or anything else -- that Filoni doesn't understand from the inside out.

He's not just a diplomat, however, but also a thinker respected for this theological acumen: In April 2012, Benedict XVI made Filoni a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

From June 2007 to May 2011, Filoni held the all-important job of sostituto, or "substitute," effectively the pope's chief of staff.

That aspect of his résumé is a mixed blessing because it means Filoni was on the scene for some of the more spectacular implosions of Benedict's papacy, including the cause célèbre surrounding a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop in 2009 and the surreal Boffo affair in early 2010. (The latter is too complicated to explain, but it pivoted on charges that senior Vatican officials were involved in a plot to smear an Italian Catholic journalist.)

Most observers, however, place the primary blame for those episodes at the feet of Filoni's former boss, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Conventional wisdom is that Bertone and Filoni, once close, had a falling out. True or not, the perception helps. To some cardinals, Filoni could seem the perfect man to lead a reform of the bureaucracy -- an insider who knows where the bodies are buried, yet not terribly complicit in the perceived malaise.

Here's the argument for why Filoni could emerge as a surprise contender, especially if the early rounds of the conclave suggest none of the leading candidates can get across the two-thirds threshold.

First, cardinals have said over and over again they want a pope with global vision, especially someone who can embrace the two-thirds of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today who live outside the West. Arguably, nobody among the 115 electors has broader life experience and understanding of the diverse situations around the world than Filoni.

Second, the highest political and diplomatic priority facing the next pope is likely to be the defense of religious freedom, especially in hotspots where Christians find themselves in the firing line. Given that Iraq is a harrowing symbol of this anti-Christian violence, Filoni is in a unique position to raise consciousness on the issue.

Signs of his sensitivity are everywhere. When he became a cardinal in 2012, he asked for a Greek Byzantine image of Christ wearing a purple mantle to be placed on the cards handed out at his reception, saying it symbolized "the reality that even today, the church in so many parts of the world continues to pay a price in blood."

Third, despite being a career bureaucrat, Filoni can display a deft pastoral touch, including an appreciation for simple things. For the Year of Faith, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is distributing a rosary with beads of different colors between the decades representing the continents: white for Europe, red for America, yellow for Asia, blue for Oceania and green for Africa. The idea is to encourage people to pray for evangelization throughout the world.

Arguably Filoni would be an asset to the new evangelization apart from his own ability as a missionary because he understands what the contours of effective evangelization look like in different global environments.

Fourth, Filoni could appeal to both staunch conservatives and more moderate cardinals. He usually comes off as a man who won't brook compromises on Catholic identity but also someone with great tact in engaging forces hostile to the church.

Fifth, many cardinals are looking to the next pope to be more of a business manager, among other things restoring the trust ruptured by the Vatileaks affair. If protecting confidentiality is part of that concern, Filoni could be a perfect fit; it's said when he gets up from his desk at Propaganda Fidei to go the bathroom, he locks his office door, just to be sure roaming eyes don't stray across whatever papers he's left behind.

Yet for a variety of reasons, Filoni has to be considered a real long shot.

First, aside from a few brief stints in parishes as a young priest, he has little pastoral experience and has never run a diocese. Many cardinals regard such in-the-trenches seasoning as a prerequisite for the next pope. (It's worth recalling, however, that much the same criticism was voiced of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2005, and it didn't stop him from being elected on four ballots.)

Second, there's a strong anti-Italian and anti-old-guard humor percolating among many cardinals these days, frustrated with what they see as antiquated and dysfunctional ways of doing business in the Vatican. In that light, a career bureaucrat who worked inside the system during some of its recent implosions would probably face serious question marks.

On a related note, some cardinals have expressed concern that because they have not been given the confidential report prepared for Benedict XVI on the Vatican leaks affair, they don't know to what extent it might raise questions about insiders such as Filoni. Although Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz Casado, one of the three over-80 prelates who wrote the report, apparently told a General Congregation meeting Tuesday that "no cardinal was involved," that may not be enough to allay concerns.

Third, the instinctive reaction even of Filoni's admirers to the idea of him becoming pope would probably be, "Isn't he better suited to be Secretary of State?" Many cardinals may never get past that thought in sizing him up.

Fourth, Filoni is seen as an ally of the Neocatechumenal Way, one of the new movements in the Catholic church. Moderates tend to detect a whiff of fanaticism about it, while some conservatives object to its penchant for playing fast and loose with liturgical rules. Veteran Italian writer Sandro Magister has described Filoni as a "fiery supporter," which may raise eyebrows.

Fifth, Filoni has not been mentioned prominently as a possible pope in the run-up to the conclave, which means many cardinals probably haven't given him much thought. At a time when cardinals are conscious of finding someone who doesn't bring any baggage to the job, they may feel less inclined to roll the dice.

For all those reasons, it's probably unlikely that Filoni will get a serious look. On the off-chance that he does, however, those day-one headlines about the "Hero of Baghdad" might be awfully tempting.

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship
John L. Allen Jr. | Mar. 6, 2013 NCR Today

One shouldn't presume that continuity with Benedict XVI will be the top concern of all 115 cardinals now getting ready to elect his successor, since many of them believe the "pope emeritus" was a great teacher but a mixed bag as CEO.

Yet for those who do see continuity as job number one, their candidate might well be the man known around Rome for years as "the little Ratzinger."

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, 67, has led the Congregation for Divine Worship since December 2008, after six years as the Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain. The nickname "little Ratzinger" comes from earlier in his career, when Cañizares served as the chief of staff for the doctrine committee of the Spanish bishops' conference from 1985 to 1992.

They were years of high drama, as Spanish theologians were prominent in the church's intellectual Avant-garde. Cañizares played the same role in Spain that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did at the global level in holding the line against these currents, and the two men became close friends.

(The qualifier "little" works in another sense too, as Cañizares is a fairly short man. In pictures with the pope, Benedict often seems to tower over him.)

Both admirers and detractors of Cañizares have embraced the nickname "little Ratzinger," suggesting that whether you find his similarity to the retired pope encouraging or distressing, everyone can agree it fits.

Born in 1945 in Utiel, located in Spain's Valencia region, Cañizares studied theology at the Pontifical University of Salamanca and was ordained to the priesthood in 1970, amid the ferment of the immediate post-Vatican II period. Like his mentor Joseph Ratzinger, Cañizares became concerned that the baby was being tossed out with the bathwater, that too much of the church's intellectual and spiritual tradition was being either watered down or set aside.

During the 1970s, Cañizares taught theology in a string of universities and seminaries, with a special interest in catechesis. He founded an association for Spanish catechists, and also directed a theological journal called Teología y Catequesis.

Cañizares was named the Bishop of Avila in 1992, at the age of 46. It was evident this was a bishop with a passion for the life of the mind; in 1996, he founded the Universidad Católica Santa Teresa de Jesús de Ávila, more commonly known as the Catholic University of Avila. In the spirit of Teresa of Avila, the university offers a program in Catholic mysticism along with degrees in business, law and engineering.

In 1996, Cañizares took over as the Archbishop of Granada. Just before his appointment, he was also named a member of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, cementing his friendship with the future pope. He also helped compile the Spanish edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

He moved up the ladder again in 2002, becoming the de facto leader of the Spanish church as the Archbishop of Toledo, and entered the College of Cardinals in Benedict XVI's first consistory in March 2006.

His years in Toledo overlapped with the first term of Spain's Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who became the bogeyman of the European Catholic imagination by challenging the church on virtually every imaginable front – from liberalizing abortion and gay marriage to trimming tax subsidies for Catholic schools and other institutions.

The Spanish leader became such a metaphor for secularism on steroids that when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, the most common reaction among Vatican officials was the hope that he wouldn't become a "global Zapatero."

Cañizares emerged as the most acerbic critic of the Zapatero regime, so much so that when he relocated to Rome in 2008 some Spaniards thought it was tantamount to the church waving a white flag after Zapatero's reelection.

In truth, the move probably wasn't an instance of the old Roman principle of Promoveatur ut amoveatur, "promoting to remove." Instead, Benedict is a pope keenly interested in the church's liturgical life, and he wanted a figure of trust to take over the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments from Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze.

(The perceived urgency of moving a "Ratzingerian" into that office was all the greater since plans were already in motion to name the congregation's secretary, Malcolm Ranjith, as the new Archbishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka.)

As the Vatican's top liturgical official, Cañizares has publicly expressed reservations about taking communion in the hand, arguing that receiving it on the tongue in a kneeling position better expresses a spirit of adoration.

Cañizares also robustly defended Benedict's decision in 2007 to widen permission for celebration of the old Latin Mass, arguing that "even if there weren't a single traditionalist" in the Lefebvrist camp to appease, the pope would still be right to make the liturgical heritage of the church more broadly available. In November 2012, Cañizares celebrated a Tridentine Mass for a group of traditionalist Catholic pilgrims loyal to the pope.

In 2011, Cañizares established a new commission within his office for liturgical art, architecture and music, the apparent purpose of which is to promote a more reverent, traditional ethos in all those fields. Recently Cañizares said that if French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre had ever seen the post-Vatican II Mass celebrated the right way, he might never have split with Rome.

At a personal level, Cañizares is also reminiscent of Benedict XVI. He may be tough as nails on doctrine, but he comes off in person as mild, gracious, and a little shy.

The case for Cañizares as pope is easy to roll out.

First, he represents intellectual and spiritual continuity with Benedict XVI as much, and arguably more, than any other single figure in the College of Cardinals. Given that 66 of the 115 cardinals who will be voting were named by the pope emeritus, that's probably no small electoral advantage.

Second, at least on paper Cañizares ticks off most of the boxes on the cardinals' wish list for the next pope. He's in the right age window at 67 for a papacy that's neither too long nor too short; he's got a mix of pastoral and Vatican experience; and he's an expert on catechesis at a moment when the church's highest internal priority is the New Evangelization.

Third, Cañizares' theological and liturgical views may be polarizing in some circles, but on a personal level he's seen as kind and non-threatening. In an election in which personal relationships count at least as much as issues, that profile could take the Spanish prelate a long way.

Fourth, there was considerable speculation in the Italian papers back in 2008 that Cañizares was being removed from Toledo at the inspiration of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State, who supposedly wanted to launch a sort of Ostpolitik with the Zapatero government. Whether that's true almost doesn't matter; at a moment when there's fairly strong discontent among many cardinals with Bertone's performance, the perception that Cañizares isn't part of his team may work in his favor.

Yet the case against Cañizares is fairly strong too.

First, governance is shaping up as a key voting issue in the 2013 conclave, and many cardinals may look at Cañizares and see a photocopy of Benedict XVI: a great mind and a prayerful soul, but someone ill-suited for the administrative and managerial dimension of the papacy.

Second, in terms of languages, Cañizares is truly comfortable only in Spanish. While that's the native tongue of almost half the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, many cardinals believe the next pope not only has to be proficient in Italian, to play his role as the Bishop of Rome, but also English, which is the dominant language of the world's media.

Third, for those cardinals looking for someone who can reconcile diverse currents in the church, and who can engineer a sort of détente with the secular world, Cañizares may be seen as a few notches too far to the right.

Fourth, a Cañizares papacy would likely be similar to that of Benedict XVI in another sense, in that he would likely be more focused on the internal life of the church rather than the ad extra dimension, engaging issues in the outside world. At a moment when the defense of religious freedom is seen as an urgent priority, especially in light of growing anti-Christian persecution around the world, some cardinals may believe the times call for a more "political" pope – someone who can mobilize the diplomatic and social capital of the church to make a difference on the global stage.

Fifth, Cañizares gave an interview in 2009 to a Catalan TV station at the time the Ryan Report appeared in Ireland, arguing that abortion is a far more serious crime against humanity than child sexual abuse by clergy. While many cardinals may agree in principle, they may also not want the next pope to have to spend the early days of his pontificate trying to explain his views on the sex abuse crisis.

(To be clear, Cañizares said in the same interview that the behavior of some Catholic priests and nuns in Ireland was to be totally condemned, and that they had committed crimes "for which we have to ask forgiveness".)

If this were the conclave of 2005, when continuity was the driving issue, Cañizares might well profile as a front-runner. It's a different mood in 2013, however, and for cardinals seeking to remedy what they perceive as the managerial deficiencies of the last eight years, he might not seem the best choice.

Nonetheless, in a fairly wide-open race it's just on the cusp of possibility that the "little Ratzinger" could be tapped for the church's biggest job.

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of the Democratic Republic of Congo
John L. Allen Jr. | Mar. 5, 2013 NCR Today

A pope, of course, is not merely a spiritual leader but also a head of state, since the Holy See is a sovereign entity that enjoys diplomatic relations with 179 nations. There's an awfully good case that no one in the College of Cardinals is better prepared for that aspect of the job than Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the lone cardinal to have previously served, more or less, as a country's chief executive.

Back in the early 1990s, what was then Zaire was feeling its way towards life without strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the country from 1965 to 1997. A transitional "High Council of the Republic" needed someone with moral authority and a reputation for independence to lead the process of drafting a new constitution, acting as the de facto national leader during the fin de regime period.

Nobody from the political class fit the bill, so the nation instead turned to the then-Auxiliary Bishop of Kisangani, a polished and urbane cleric named Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya. He not only served as president of the council, but also as transitional speaker of the national parliament in 1994.

Monsengwo gets mixed reviews for how well he handled the role – in part because it wasn't really his diplomacy that brought an end to Mobutu's rule, but the First Congo War and the armies of Laurent-Désiré Kabila. When Monsengwo later spoke out against Kabila's anti-democratic tendencies, charges that the archbishop had been "pro-Mobutu" become a staple of government rhetoric.

Some Catholics agreed that Monsengwo had been overly soft, especially given the persecution they'd experienced at the hands of the Mobutu regime. At one point Mobutu ordered all Christians in the country to adopt non-Christian names, and at another he ordered crucifixes and pictures of the pope to be taken down in Catholic schools and replaced with images of himself. For a time, Cardinal Joseph-Albert Malula of Kinshasa was forced into exile.

Critics accused Monsengwo of vacillating while Africa was gripped by genocide. Admirers, however, say Monsengwo was trying to find a third way between dictatorship and chaos, noting that it's one thing to stand on the outside of the political process and toss bricks, quite another to remain within it and try to get something done.

In any event, if one dimension of papacy is to engage tough political and diplomatic questions, nobody's been down that road before quite like the Cardinal of Kinshasa.

Born in Mongobele, in what is now the DRC, in 1939, Monsengwo belongs to the royal family of his Basakata tribe; his name actually means, "relative of the chief." As a young he was sent to Rome for studies, first at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, home to seminarians from the developing world, and then to the prestigious Pontifical Biblical Institute.

He also put in a stint at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem, where one of his teachers was a promising Italian Jesuit named Fr. Carlo Maria Martini, who went on to become the cardinal of Milan and one of the leading intellectual lights of the Catholic church. In Jerusalem, Monsengwo became the first African to earn a doctorate in Biblical studies from the institute.

After doing pastoral work and teaching in the local seminary during the 1970s, Monsengwo became a bishop in 1980, at the tender age of 40. He was consecrated by Pope John Paul II himself during the pope's May 1980 trip to Zaire, his first outing to Africa.

Monsengwo was immediately elected the president of the Congolese bishops' conference, a post he would hold again in 1992. He became the Archbishop of Kisangani in 1988, and the Archbishop of Kinshasa in 2007. Benedict XVI raised him to the rank of cardinal in November 2010.

Now 73, Monsengwo obviously enjoys the esteem of the former pope. Not only did Benedict make him a cardinal, after a long stretch in which many people thought Monsengwo's window of opportunity had closed, but in 2008 Benedict tapped Monsengwo as the relator, or general secretary, of the Synod of Bishops on the Bible. In February 2012, Benedict also invited the African prelate to deliver the Vatican's annual Lenten retreat.

Monsengwo is a member of the Vatican's powerful Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which coordinates support for local churches all across the developing world.

He's a familiar face on the Roman scene, frequently sought after as a speaker on African affairs and geopolitics. For years, he's been the go-to voice for media outlets in Rome on matters pertaining to the Catholic church in Africa, in part because he speaks fluent Italian. (Remarkably, Monsengwo is said to be at least passable in fourteen languages, including both the major European languages and a variety of tribal dialects.)

Monsengwo has continued to act as a voice of conscience in the post-Mobutu period. On more than one occasion, the Kabila government confiscated his passport to prevent from travelling abroad and voicing his criticism in the international arena. He's also had cross words for the new regime under President Denis Sassou Nguesso, most recently questioning the legitimacy of the November 2011 general elections – a stance for which, according to the media outlet Jeune Afrique ("Young Africa"), he was subjected to a "lynching" in state-controlled media.

In other contexts such language might be hyperbole, but Monsengwo has literally put his life on the line. In 2010, two men dressed as priests showed up wanting to see him, when their stories didn't check out the police were summoned, who found handguns hidden under their cassocks. When Monsengwo's 22-year-old nephew was murdered in South Africa in 2012, many Congolese suspected the involvement of political factions in the DRC threatened by the cardinal's moral criticism.

The case for Monsengwo as pope rests on three points.

First, he would symbolize the phenomenal growth of Catholicism in sub-Saharan Africa, where the church's following shot up by almost 7,000 percent during the 20th century from 1.9 million to more than 130 million. By 2050, the Democratic Republic of Congo is projected to become the fifth largest Catholic country in the world, with a Catholic population of just under 100 million people.

Second, Monsengwo's life experience could position him to revitalize the political and diplomatic activity of the Vatican, something that many observers believe went into eclipse under Benedict XVI. After a pontificate more focused on the inner life of the church, some believe, it's time for a pope more vitally focused on the raging external questions of the day – war and peace, the pathologies of globalization, the rise of Islam, and so on. In that context, Monsengwo could seem an attractive candidate.

Third, Monsengwo is an urbane and sophisticated thinker who could appeal to a variety of different constituencies within the College of Cardinals. With his vast experience of government, both ecclesiastical and secular, he could be seen as someone who can take control of complex organizations and make them work – an important selling point in a conclave in which governance, especially in the bureaucracy of the Vatican, looms as a major voting issue.

However, there are also some serious reservations.

First, some cardinals may find the intricacies of Monsengwo's role during the end of the Mobutu regime and the 1994 genocide hard to fathom, and worry that they don't really know enough to make an informed assessment.

Second, Monsengwo is an undeniably impressive figure in terms of both intellect and political savvy, but he's not the most dynamic presence on the public stage you'll ever meet. He can come off as cerebral and stiff, which may cause some cardinals to wonder if he's really the pitchman the church needs to give legs to the "New Evangelization."

Third, although Monsengwo is an old Roman hand in one sense, he's never worked in the Vatican and could require some "one the job" training to get his hands around the bureaucracy. To really fix the place, some cardinals believe what's required isn't so much a diplomat as a tough-as-nails CEO.

Fourth, at 73 Monsengwo is just on the cusp of being seen as too old for the job, especially on the heels of a pope who just resigned for reasons of age.

At the moment, Monsengwo figures on many lists of papal candidates, but nobody seems to have him on their "A" lists. Yet in a wide-open race, if nobody gets close to a two-thirds votes after the early rounds of the conclave, all sorts of options may be on the table – including the only cardinal with a previous stint actually running a country.
Tags: catholicism, conclave, hierarchy, media, theological notebook, vatican

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