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Who to watch

As the cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel with the task of choosing a new pope, The Leaven has identified 20 cardinals who could play important roles in the conclave — as either contenders or ‘pope-makers.’

Cardinal Angelo Scola, Italy
Archbishop of Milan   |   Age 71

The Archdiocese of Milan, Europe’s largest diocese, has often been seen as a steppingstone to the papacy. Its former archbishop, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamazi, was considered a strong contender in 2005. Cardinal Scola is an intellectual with doctorates in philosophy and theology. He’s also one of the church’s foremost scholars on Islam and Christian-Muslim dialogue. He founded the Oasis International Foundation, whose goal is to promote understanding between Christians and Muslims. The Italian cardinal is media savvy and has the charm to capture the hearts of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He has a reputation for openness, having set aside Wednesdays, while the archbishop of Vienna, to visit with people who wanted to see him, whether they had an appointment or not. Italians have long held a stranglehold on the papacy, and Cardinal Scola has the least baggage of Italian contenders.


Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez
Maradiaga, Honduras
Archbishop of Tegucigalpa   |   Age 70

Hailing from Honduras, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga boasts a wide range of interests — and degrees. He holds doctorates in philosophy, theology and moral theology, but has also taught courses in chemistry, physics and music at colleges in Latin America. He’s an accomplished musician and can play both the piano and saxophone. In his own country, the Honduran has advocated for better education, criticized government corruption, and called for the alleviation of the heavy foreign debt of many of the Third World’s poorest countries. But he’s also known on the international level from his service as ambassador of the Catholic Church’s emergency relief and development aid. Cardinal Maradiaga is a charismatic personality who has been called the John Paul II of Latin America.


Cardinal Robert Sarah, Guinea
President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum
Age 67

As archbishop of Gonakry, Guinea, Cardinal Sarah earned the respect of his Muslim and Christian countrymen alike when he was one of the few people courageous enough to speak out against the brutal regimes of Ahemed Sekou Toure and Lansana Conte and promote human rights. He is currently president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican office that promotes and coordinates Catholic charitable giving. Before that, he served nine years as secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, so he is well-known by the world’s cardinals. Cardinal Sarah has studied in France and Rome and is fluent in French, Italian and English. When he was consecrated a bishop at the age of 34, he was the youngest bishop in the world.


Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Argentina
Archbishop of Buenos Aires   |   Age 76

According to various reports, Cardinal Bergoglio was a strong challenger to Cardinal Ratzinger at the last conclave finishing with the second highest vote total. He could very well be a strong candidate this time around, too, despite being overshadowed by other Latin American cardinals in the eyes of the media. Cardinal Bergoglio, a Jesuit priest, has been a strong champion of the poor and has spurned the perks usually associate with someone of his stature. He rides the bus to work and chose a modest apartment over the official residence. He’s an intelligent man with a master’s degree in chemistry and is known for being a skilled administrator.


Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Italy
Dean of the College of Cardinals   |   Age 85

As the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Sodano will enjoy the same high-profile position Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger held in the days immediately following the death of Pope John Paul II eight years ago. The exposure will likely not serve the Italian cardinal as well, however. Having just witnessed the resignation of a pope for age-related reasons, it’s unlikely that the 85-year-old cardinal would gather much support. But Cardinal Sodano will doubtless wield considerably influence in this conclave because of his position and past connections as Secretary of State.


Cardinal Timothy Dolan, United States
Archbishop of New York   |   Age 63

Already touted as the “American pope,” Cardinal Dolan certainly has the charisma and media savvy to handle the top job. A speech he made to the College of Cardinals on the new evangelization last February was well received and put him on many cardinals’ radar. His easygoing and approachable personality has made him a media darling in the United States. He’s theologically sound and, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has led the attack on the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. Working against the American is the fact that he’s never worked in the Vatican and isn’t fluent in Italian. There is also concern that his exuberant personality might not play as well in Rome as it does in the United States. Add in the prejudice against electing a pope from a superpower, and the fact that he’s on the younger end of the papabili spectrum, and a Dolan papacy seems like a long shot.


Cardinal Peter Erdo, Hungary
Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest   |   Age 60

Cardinal Peter Erdo was the youngest cardinal to participate in the conclave that elected Benedict XVI. Eight years later, there are still only a handful of younger cardinals. He’s a canon lawyer, a historian of church law and has a doctorate in theology, and he’s twice been elected president of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe. With 61 voting eligible cardinals hailing from Europe, that’s a fact that can’t be overlooked. He’s also forged strong ties with Africa. With Europe’s Catholic population growing older, Cardinal Erdo has been active in evangelization efforts and has praised the church in Latin America for its ability to attract youth. On the debit side, the work for which the Hungarian is most noted has been behind the scenes. Whether he could be as effective in the spotlight might be something the cardinal-electors will consider.


Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, Brazil
Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life   |   Age 65

Cardinal Braz de Aviz is is the current prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. He’s earned praise for his efforts in that position, even though he’s only been on the job since 2011. His duties have him working closely with religious orders and rebuilding trust that was considered broken between the Vatican and certain religious orders under his predecessor. Ordained for the Diocese of Apucarana, he served as a priest in several parishes in Brazil. As a young priest, he was shot multiple times when caught in the crossfire of an armed robbery and still has fragments from the bullets in his body. He’s a personable man with a reputation for reliability. He’s recently criticized the church for being too Eurocentric, a criticism that’s illustrated by the majority of cardinals hailing from Europe, despite Latin America’s far larger population of Catholics.


Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, Austria
Archbishop of Vienna   |   Age 68

Cardinal Schonborn, archbishop of Vienna, has been a harsh critic of the church’s past handling of sex abuse and has called for greater transparency. As a young priest, Cardinal Schonborn studied under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and is considered not only his intellectual protégé, but a brilliant theologian in his own right. The Austrian was the editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for 20 years now the working textbook for Catholic doctrine around the world. He’s traveled the world on behalf of the Vatican and is widely known and admired. Working against the cardinal is the perception that he would be a reformer. He’s taken some positions recently that have rubbed some the wrong way, even criticizing a fellow cardinal for his handling of an abuse case, which seemed to draw a veiled reprimand from the Vatican.


Cardinal Peter Turkson, Ghana
President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace   |   Age 64

From a continent where Catholicism is growing rapidly, Cardinal Turkson may be Africa’s best papal candidate. As the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Turkson is well-known for his human touch and ability to connect with people. He speaks multiple languages native to Ghana, as well as most European languages. In West Africa, he’s considered a rock star thanks to his frequent television appearances, which helps him maintain strong ties to his native country while performing his Vatican duties. Cardinal Turkson has not shied away from questions about the possibility of becoming the first black pope, proclaiming he’s up for the job “if it’s the will of God,” while at the same time acknowledging that a black pope would face unique challenges. The Ghanan did cause an uproar last year by screening an anti-Islamic video, an error for which he quickly and publicly apologized.


Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Canada
Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops   |   Age 68

Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec is the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and quite simply one of the most powerful men at the Vatican. Despite his lofty status within the Vatican, the Canadian cardinal has broad international experience, having studied in Austria and Germany and having served as a missionary in Latin America. He speaks six languages fluently and has had a hand in selecting new bishops, which makes him well-known throughout the Catholic hierarchy. He’s considered to be much like Pope Benedict theologically. When asked about the possibility of becoming pope after Pope John Paul II’s death, the Canadian called the prospect “a nightmare.”


Cardinal Francis Arinze, Nigeria
Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments   |   Age 80

In the last conclave, Cardinal Arinze’s name was floated as a strong contender for the papacy. While his age will work against him this go-round, he is still being mentioned as a potential successor to the throne of St. Peter. Cardinal Arinze has been praised for his charm and superior communication skills. He had a rapid rise through the Catholic hierarchy as he was named a bishop at age 33 and, two years later, was named archbishop of Onitsha. The Nigerian cardinal’s ability to work hand-in-hand with the country’s Muslims drew the attention of Pope John Paul II, and he was named pro-president of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Non-Christians in 1979. As cardinal, he was praised for his work in promoting the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.


Cardinal Julian Herranz Casado, Spain
President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts   |   Age 82

While not numbered among the papabili, Cardinal Herranz Casado wields considerable influence inside the walls of the Vatican. A member of Opus Dei, Cardinal Herranz Casado was the head of the committee of three cardinals to whom Pope Benedict entrusted the internal investigation of the “VatiLeaks” scandal. Moreover, he’s one of the Vatican’s foremost experts in canon law. Although never officially confirmed by the Vatican, Cardinal Herranz Casado is also believed to have led the Curia during times of Pope John Paul II’s incapacitation. In other words, he’s a man two popes have trusted implicitly. And although his committee’s “VatiLeaks” report awaits the eyes of the new pope, he and the other two cardinals have been specifically freed up by the pope emeritus to answer any questions about the report that the College of Cardinals might have. Enough said.


Cardinal Luis Antonio
Tagle, Philippines
Archbishop of Manila   |   Age 55

At age 55, Cardinal Tagle is one of the rising stars in the College of Cardinals. He’s a dynamic speaker, whose speeches have impressed bishops worldwide and caught the attention of Pope Benedict. Noted for his humility, Tagle took the bus to work while bishop of Imus and regularly invited beggars outside the cathedral in for a meal. He’s been outspoken in urging the church to be proactive in dealing with sex abuse and to put measures in place to ensure the victims come first. “We do not need to wait for a bomb to explode. Preventing it from exploding is the best response,” he said. As archbishop of Manila, he has a reputation as a capable administrator. He’s been a defender of the poor as well as a strong environmentalist over the years. Working against him is his youth — a Tagle papacy could be a long one.


Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Argentina
Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches   |   Age 69

While Catholic numbers in Europe are declining, they are booming in Latin America and the time might be right for a Latin American pope. Cardinal Sandri might just have the right mix to make him an attractive papal candidate. He was born in Argentina but of Italian parents. Cardinal Sandri has a reputation as a strong manager who would run an orderly ship, which might be what cardinal-electors are looking for if “VatiLeaks” is still fresh in their minds. Cardinal Sandri is well-known at the Vatican, having served as Pope John Paul II’s “substitute for general affairs.” When Pope John Paul II’s health declined, it was Cardinal Sandri who would read his texts, and was, in fact, the one who announced to the world that Pope John Paul II had died. Despite his strong managerial skills, he is lacking in pastoral experience, having never served as a diocesan bishop and having spent most of his career in the Vatican.


Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Italy
Secretary of State   |   Age 78

He may be considered a long shot, but as the Secretary of State and No. 2 man in the Vatican, Cardinal Bertone cannot be ignored. A Salesian cleric with no diplomatic experience before taking over as Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone has been faulted by some for the way he’s managed the Curia; others blame the Curia instead. But there’s no question that Pope Benedict has always been a steadfast supporter of the cardinal. With the throne now vacant, Cardinal Bertone, in his role as camerlengo, is the acting head of state of Vatican City.


Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Italy
Archbishop of Genoa   |   Age 70

Having served as the head of the Italian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Bagnasco has the advantage of having rubbed elbows with the largest voting bloc in the conclave. He’s very popular in Italy, having led a scathing attack on former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and other Italian leaders for their unethical behavior. On the flip side, he’s never worked outside of Italy, so cardinal-electors might wonder about the breadth of his vision. He’s expressed such strong opposition to abortion and same-sex unions in the past that he’s received death threats from gay rights activists.


Cardinal Sean O’Malley, United States
Archbishop of Boston   |   Age 68

For a while, it seemed like the United States’ best bet for a pope was with Cardinal Dolan. But then something unexpected happened — the Italian press went crazy for Cardinal O’Malley. The Boston cardinal was hailed for his performance as a reformer after taking over a tough situation in Boston after the sex abuse crisis broke there. He’s well-traveled, having worked as a priest in Chile and served as a bishop in the Caribbean. The cardinal is down-to-earth, preferring to be called Cardinal Sean, and favors his simple Capuchin robe over more elaborate dress. Cardinal O’Malley is also a good communicator who likes to engage people through Twitter and his personal blog.


Cardinal Odilo Scherer, Brazil
Archbishop of Sao Paolo   |   Age 63

As Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Cardinal Scherer heads one of the largest dioceses in the world. He has strong ties to Rome, having studied at the Gregorian University and worked in the Congregation for Bishops. The cardinal has been a strong opponent of Brazil’s attempts to liberalize abortion laws. And while he’s praised liberation theology’s focus on peace and social justice, he’s criticized its Marxist leanings. The Brazilian cardinal knows how to use the media to his advantage, putting his archdiocesan website and newspaper to use promoting the church’s view on issues making news in Brazil. He’s also very active on Twitter.


Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, Italy
President of the Pontifical Council for Culture   |   Age 70

Cardinal Ravasi is reputed to be one of the most intelligent members of the College of Cardinals. He’s a biblical scholar and a former professor at the Theological University of Northern Italy in Milan. The cardinal is well-versed in classic literature as well as contemporary culture and can just as easily quote Amy Winehouse or Friedrich Nietzsche as St. Augustine. He’s very popular in Italy, where he’s written for several newspapers and hosted a popular religious program on television. While he’s energetic and outgoing, Cardinal Ravasi has never been in charge of a diocese. He was tapped by Pope Benedict, however, to preach the Lenten retreat held in the final days of his papacy, so the exposure to many cardinals already in Rome for the transition couldn’t have hurt Cardinal Ravasi’s chances.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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