You want Pope’s job? Don’t say it!

It may ruin your chances.

Questions:

1. As it was announced that Benedict XVI will resign what’s next for the Catholic Church. I mean in the sense what is going on right now “behind the curtains”. Is it a usual process like in any other organization – favorites are counting votes, trying to find more allies, defaming potential competitors? 

2. And how does it work? May a favorite openly say that I want this “job”? Or he has to choose a more subtle way how to express himself.

Answers

James Weiss, Associate Professor, Department of Theology, Boston College

1. In 2013, we have a better than usual view of what is happening “behind the curtains” because of numerous exposures, leaks, and open scandals in recent years. The Vatican administration has been troubled for several years as wave after wave of unexpected crises and scandals have arisen: the finances of the Church, diplomatic difficulties, delicate questions which were handled in a clumsy or hurtful way, intense factions and divisions in the higher levels of Vatican leadership, and finally, of course, the world-wide scandals of sexual abuse which revealed the neglect and harm caused by cardinals and bishops who did too little. One major commentator, who is sympathetic to the current papacy, has called the administration of Card. Bertone (the Secretary of State) a “slow-motion train wreck”.

Pope Benedict has been an admirable pope by all accounts, but he was faced with an avalanche of his problems. Most of them were not of his own making.

The process of selecting his successor will be different — and unusually difficult — in certain ways. The cardinals have a much longer period to reflect on the qualities needed in his successor. The factions in the Vatican are much more openly known than in the past. Finally, in most papal elections, the senior Vatican cardinals are in a position to guide other cardinals. At this point, however, there are many rivalries which make some senior cardinals untrusted by their colleagues. These divisions in the senior Vatican leadership are unusual at a conclave: the last two in which that happened were 1914 and 1730.

At the same time, there are some splendidly qualified candidates, so it may also be difficult to select among them.

2. It would be considered absolutely unacceptable — both for moral reasons and as a matter of decorum — for a cardinal to indicate his desire for the papacy. The most he could do would indicate the ways he might deal with certain problems. In the course of discussions, it can become apparent in subtle ways if a person is willing to serve.

Mathew SchmalzAssociate Professor of Religious Studies, Director, College Honors Program, The College of the Holy Cross

1. I would think that the initial response will be surprise. But there will be politicking behind the scenes that will start soon. The crucial issue will be whether Italian cardinals can come together as a group and reclaim the papacy. On the other hand, Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet is well know and would have the support of many European and Latin American cardinals. Papal politics can be very dangerous indeed.

2. It would be considered bad form for a cardinal to indicate that he wanted to become Pope. Instead, there are “king-makers” who can bring together groups of people surrounding a particular candidate. The discussion usually starts slowly, but then momentum builds.

Gëzim AlpionLecturer in Sociology, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham

1. We can only speculate on what goes on behind the scenes at the Vatican at the moment. One thing is certain, though. While Benedict XVI himself will not cast a vote, he will have a say, although indirectly, in the appointment of his successor. After all, the Pope has appointed a significant number of cardinals – 67 to be precise – who owe him a debt of gratitude and share his conservative views.

2. I believe Benedict XVI has a clear view as to who he wants to succeed him. In that sense, the hopeful cardinals have an inkling which of them stands a better chance. The issue is not if a ‘conservative’ or a ‘reformer’ will take the helm of the Catholic Church but if the College of Cardinals, which is dominated by the over-80s, is inclined to elect a young pontiff.

James Brian Benestad, Professor, Theology/Religious Studies, University of Scranton

I don’t think that favorites are counting votes or defaming potential competitors.  To do such a thing would surely convince the cardinal electors not to vote for a person.  A person pronounced a favorite by the media, who campaigned for the job, would be be regarded by most electors as unfit for the job.  As Plato said a long time ago, the best ruler is the talented person who is not ambitious for the job and who would rule to benefit others, not himself.

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