The Roman Catholic Church is led by the College of Cardinals– they will meet formally Monday for the first time as a group.
After tending to church business, they will decide when to go into conclave. The formal vote to choose who among them will be the next successor to St. Peter, 115 will cast ballots representing the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.
Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George says he feels the weight, the anticipation and he remembers the joy and stress of the last time he went through this process.
As one of the most senior members of the College of Cardinals, Francis George is considered a major force in the papal election. Ballots were cast for him in the last conclave. This time he says he has a sense of who the next pope should be. First he’ll consider the type of man.
“Certainly we have to have someone who is up to the job not only spiritually and intellectually, but also physically.”
And since pope benedict stepped down saying he was too weak to lead. “We’ll go healthier!!”
But no less intellectual. “Able to speak at least the modern languages,” he said.
Where in the world will they turn?
“The most important thing is that he has a universal perspective and he’s able to appreciate people from Mali or Malaysia as well as people from this country.”
Various countries are represented among the frontrunners: from North America: longshots from the United States, Timothy Dolan and Sean O’Malley.
“There may be some in the College of Cardinals, I don’t know, that think the time is not right for someone from this country.”
Canada’s Marc Ouellet and Mexico’s Norberto Rivera Carrera have been mentioned. From South America: Oscar Rodrigues of Honduras, Leonardo Sandri of Argentina and Odilo Scherer of Brazil. European possibles: Peter Erdo of Hungary, Gianfranco Ravasi and Angelo Scola, Italy, and Austria’s Christoph Schonborn. And in Africa: Nigeria’s John Onaiyekan, Guinea’s Robert Sarah, Ghana’s Peter Turkson and in Asia Luis Tagle of the Philippines.
“I think the names that are in the press are in fact, for the most part, serious candidates.”
Unlike a presidential candidate, people do not put forth their own names or lobby for the leadership position.
“Nobody comes in and says I want this man because it’s time for us to have a cardinal from my country or my continent. Nobody says that. That won’t be said.
What you do is talk to friends of your friends. You got to someone quietly and say, “I don’t know so and so, but people speak about him, what do you think? What do you know?”
And that all happens long before the cardinals go into conclave. Learning from the last time – Cardinal George says he will urge his fellow cardinals to proceed with caution.
“I look back and say “I should have done it differently.”
He said “Before I took other people’s point of view, go there, talk to them! I’ll have a better sense of what i think is important than I had last time.”
And that will take time, the cardinal suspects more than a week. So despite emeritus pope benedict’s final act of shortening the time until election, the cardinals may decide otherwise.
“The actual time of going into conclave will be the decision of the cardinals and we’ll all know when we’ve talked enough.”
Because once they go into conclave there is no talking, only prayer and ballots. It’s an ancient process we will be in Rome to cover and I will have all of the details of how that election takes place including the special way the ballots must be tipped to cast and how the smoke turns from black to white.