Pay close attention when the next pope is chosen. You are witnessing history. This isn't an ordinary papal election. The church is teetering on the brink, and it cannot stay there. The next pope will either put the Church on a path to regain its prominence in the world … or drive it right over the cliff.
The pope's final day was Thursday. The last pope to step down was Gregory XII in 1415, and the reaction to his resignation was somewhat less gracious than the treatment Benedict received. Gregory was seen as an enabler of the Great Schism, and Dante vengefully wrote him in to the Divine Comedy, as a resident of hell.
Pope Benedict XVI is 85 years old and ill, and unlike Gregory, he may have even been pressured to go. He was a weak leader at the hour when the church most needed someone strong. The church's sexual abuse revelations were possibly the darkest hours of the church’s 2,000-year history. People felt he didn't do enough for the victims — or enough to punish their abusers. When a glaring light shone on the church and the world looked to Rome for a leader, Benedict shrank back.
The next pope, whoever he is, will be forced to confront the issues that Benedict could not, issues that are threatening the very survival of the church:
-Sexual abuse scandals
-Spread of Protestantism in former Catholic strongholds
-Dwindling number of clergy in the West
-General weariness of “religion” throughout the West
The 117 Cardinal Electors know they must pick the right man. The only official qualification needed for the papacy is that the candidate must be a baptized male, but many other qualities make a man papabile, or potential pope material. Intelligence, credibility, and experience are all considerations. And age: all the candidates are hovering around 70. There is no way of knowing who the Cardinals favor, but the mainstream media seems to have settled on three possibilities:
1. Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, is unquestionably the favorite. Ouellet is openly hesitant about papal responsibilities, and recently described the idea of taking them on as “a nightmare”.
2. Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71, is a conservative scholar on bioethics and Catholic-Muslim relations. Scola has strong ties with the Italian political establishment.
3. Italian Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, 69, is a social conservative who is politically savvy. The Cardinal is a strong advocate of transparent government.
Other candidates "in the running" are:
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, 70, is a conservative with powerful communication skills. He manages to fully support the Catholic doctrine without sounding legalistic.
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, 64, is a charismatic candidate from Ghana. If elected, Cardinal Turkson would be the first African pope in hundreds of years.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, 69, is an Argentine. There has never been a South American pope. A Sandri papacy would aim to ignite enthusiasm in that continent.
Knowing what is at stake, will the Cardinals play it safe or make a bold change? I predict the latter, and have a premonition Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi will be the next pope.
Tettamanzi is a 71-year-old Cardinal with ties to Opus Dei, a controversial Catholic group. He is viewed as socially liberal with strong political views, such as anti-globalization.
Could a "dark horse" win? It's more possible now than in recent years because the Cardinals realize a major change is needed, and a strong leader. Tettamanzi would be both. He could pull the church back from the brink, and more. If elected, he could even begin to restore power and prestige to the Vatican.
This article was originally published at Lost in the Garden.