Calling a spade
Business World, 13 February 2013


Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement — the term he used was “renounce” — has given rise to all kinds of speculation, even before the initial shock waves started to recede.

There was of course speculation about why he resigned. Some people were not willing to take his stated reasons at face value, and at the very least were attributing the deterioration of his mental and physical strength to political intrigues/conspiracies inside the Vatican.

Then the Malachy Prophecies (circa 12th century, attributed to St. Malachy of Ireland) came into the picture, since according to them, Benedict’s successor , whom Malachy described as Petrus Romanus, would be the last Pope. Speculation about the accuracy, if not the provenance, of the prophecies have also taken center stage.

But of course, the only game in town at this point is the question of who will be the next Pope. The first list I came across (from the Guardian) contained only four papable, or potential Popes: Ghanaian Peter Turkson, Canadian Marc Ouellet, Nigerian Francis Arinze, and Italian Angelo Scola (Milan). And then Reuters came up with its own list of 10 names, which include Turkson, Ouellet and Scola, but omits Arinze, and then adds three Latin American cardinals (Aviz and Scherer of Brazil, Sandri of Argentina), one American (Dolan), another Italian (Ravasi), an Austrian (Schoenborn), and our very own Luis Tagle. In short, one Asian, one African, three Latin American, two North American, and three European.

Not to be outdone, Paddy Power, reputedly the largest bookmaker in Europe, came up with their own list of 23 contenders (Tagle, alas, is not included), complete with odds. Interestingly, Turkson, Ouellet, Arinze and Scola are the “favorites,” with odds of 9/4, 5/2, 7/2 and 7/1, respectively. The bottom 10 were given odds of 33/1 each, and included Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka, who became a cardinal along with our Luis Tagle.

What are the chances that we will have a Pope who comes from the Third World? If one bases one’s estimates on the geographical distribution of Catholics in the world, then, using figures supplied by the CIA Factbook the probability of having a Pope from the Third World should be roughly 60% (North American and European Catholics comprise about 40% of total). With the likelihood of a Latin American (roughly 32% of Catholics) being the highest, followed by an African (13%) and finally by an Asian (11%). This doesn’t look too good for our Cardinal Chito.

If we use as a basis the geographical distribution of our 120 Cardinal electors as of Nov. 2012 (there are 211 cardinals, but only those under 80 can elect the Pope), then a European (62), particularly an Italian (28), will certainly win. The electors from the Third World come up to about 43 (Latin Americans 21, Africans and Asians 11 each).

If we use as a basis, however, what one could call Vatican Connections, then it becomes a whole different ball game, which is probably why Ghana’s Peter Turkson seems to have the inside track, and why Luis Tagle might have a chance. How would one define Vatican Connections? Very roughly, one has Vatican Connections if one actually works there, or has worked there.

But given the kind of problems the new Pope will have to face — dwindling numbers, dwindling priests, unresolved scandals, to name a few — plus the possibility of the Malachy Prophecies coming to pass, one wonders why anyone would want to take on the mantle of St. Peter at this time. It definitely is going to need a lot of strength and energy, not to mention commitment and charisma.

And yet, one must take into consideration the fact that the papacy, the Catholic Church (Roman and Eastern) have endured for almost 2,000 years, surviving attacks both from without and from within. The persecution of the early Church by the Romans is an example of such tribulations (the first Bishop of Rome to resign was Pope Pontian in 235 AD — he was sentenced to imprisonment and hard labor in some salt mine — and he knew he would never survive, so he asked to be replaced).

An example of attacks from within would be the period from the late ninth to the early 11th century, when the degree of politics and corruption in the Church makes the current Philippine situation pale in comparison. Or how about in the 15th century, when there were, for heaven’s sake, three Popes — one in Rome, one in Avignon, one in Pisa (that’s when Gregory XII resigned — to try to save the papacy).

But no matter how bad it got, the Church survived, and endured. No doubt through divine intervention. And by divine intervention, I mean God working his miracles through men and women who loved and served Him above all else.

So in the final analysis, what is important is not who the next Pope will be. What matters is that he will be God’s choice.

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