It remains to be decided when the Catholic world’s Cardinals will lock themselves away in the Sistine Chapel to elect the next pope. However, some began arriving to attend Pope Benedict’s last audience at St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. There will also be an informal farewell the next day for the first pope to abdicate the position while living in nearly 600 years.
Most Cardinals will likely remain in Rome until the papal conclave, which under current rules can begin no sooner than March 15. That means there are more than two weeks for the would-be-predecessor of the Pope to choose who among them may be best suited to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Vatican officials are considering a rules change that would move up the date of the conclave, perhaps to as early as March 10, ensuring that a new pontiff is in place just in time to preside over Holy Week. Some cardinals, however, are embracing the opportunity to extend the time.
“The most important thing is to choose well, and we'll take the time necessary to do that,” Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George told reporters Sunday, urging fellow cardinals not to rush the process.
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“Cardinals are not really allowed to be political, but in church-speak ‘the murmurings’ have already started,” Father Thomas Rausch, a theology professor at Loyola Marymount University, said of the cardinals huddling in Rome. “This is an opportunity to have an informal kind of convocation in which they try to sound each other out about who would be the best candidate, to see where alliances lie. They might have a little more time to do that this time, which is probably all to the good.”
Either Pope Benedict or his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, appointed all 117 Cardinals who are eligible to vote in the next conclave. Additionally, each one shares the majority of their patrons’ conservative views. The composition is disproportionately Western, with 62 Europeans and 17 from North America. That could prove to be a problem to the emergence of a pope from within the developing world, where the church is ascendant, such as 64-year-old Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana, 63-year-old Odilo Schererof Brazil or Luis Antonio Tagle, 55, of the Philippines.
Christopher M. Bellitto, a papal historian from New Jersey’s Kean University, saw the choice of Pope Benedict to be the result of indecision among cardinals who were unwilling to make a bold move toward modernization. He said he hoped the next conclave would tackle the church’s problems head-on this time.
While this speedy run to the conclave could be longer and more relaxed in the absence of mourning, Bellitto said he doubted the cardinals would be any more aggressive in their lobbying of favored candidates than if they were gathering for a pope’s funeral.
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That said, the selection rituals would be subject to politics and brokering, as they have been since the Renaissance, he said, recalling the brazen influence of the Borgias and Medicis.
“There’s nothing new in that,” Bellitto said of back-room deal making. “They’ve been doing it for 2,000 years."
Source: (Los Angeles Times)