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Will a Canadian be the next pope?


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–Among the “red hats” going out to 30 new cardinals today at St. Peter’s Square, Canada’s newest cardinal, Archbishop Marc Ouellet of Quebec City will be getting a lot of special attention.

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While has spent the last week here continually relating his surprise at being named a cardinal, and laughing out loud at any mention that he may one day be elected pope, not everyone finds the concept risible.

At least one of his fellow new cardinals has said–off the record of course, as a certain decorum is maintained on the matter of papal succession–that Cardinal Ouellet has all the qualities to be elected pope, except that he is so new.

“New” is actually an understatement. Just three years ago, Father Marc Ouellet was teaching theology in Rome, after having served previously as the head of seminaries in Montreal and Edmonton. He was told in March 2001 that he would be ordained a bishop and appointed second-in-command of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity–with only two weeks’ notice. After less than two years in that job, he was appointed archbishop of Quebec City–a clear indication that Quebec was a special priority in the eyes of the Holy See. And now a cardinal. Meteoric does not begin to describe the rise.

What next?

That’s the question being discussed in Rome this past week, as Pope John Paul has presided over his anniversary ceremonies in a remarkably weaker condition than he was in last spring. The cardinals–again off the record–speak frankly that they need, as responsible electors, to talk with each other about the future. But at this stage the talk is not so much about who specifically should be the next pope–there will be time enough for that–but rather what kind of pope the Catholic Church needs.

Leaving aside all speculation about the next pope, that is why Cardinal Ouellet is getting so much attention in Rome. He is, many Vatican officials and visiting cardinals and bishops say, the kind of man the Church is looking for. Whether he will be in fact be that man is really a secondary question–at least for now.

The anniversary celebrations have been a way of illustrating what kind of man John Paul’s successor has to be. First, a Christian disciple of deep prayer and an ability to make great sacrifices for the gospel. John Paul’s old age has highlighted this aspect of the papal “job description” moreso than his early years of frenetic activity.

Second, a world-class intellect which can provide the necessary theological leadership in a world in which errors get equal time with the truth on the Internet, a media world where all ideas claim equal authority.

Third, a gifted communicator who can make relevant the truths of the faith in a compelling way in the media age. This is what the cardinals mean when they talk about John Paul’s “public presence”.

Fourth, a man who is so transparent with the joy of the gospel that he can say that the answer to every human problem is, as John Paul said famously 25 years ago tomorrow, “to open wide the doors to Christ.”

And he has to be a linguist.

Is Ouellet that kind of man? The polyglot’s spiritual and intellectual resources are beyond doubt. His ability to communicate the faith appears strong, though he is so new that it will take time to tell.

Ouellet is getting major attention here because he seems to be that kind of man, and electors who point to him as papabile (literally, “pope-able”) are using a kind of shorthand to say what the Church needs in this moment.

There are other stars amongst the new cardinals, including Angelo Scola of Venice, Bernard Panafieu of Marseille, and George Pell of Sydney, not to mention less-new cardinals. Like Ouellet, to say whether they are papabili is, at this point, rank speculation.

Yet the cardinals to watch are the ones who are already being watched by their brother cardinals and Vatican observers. Many factors go into choosing a pope–age, geography, personal charisma, relations with the others in the college. The immediate run-up to a papal conclave will focus on much of that. This period is for something more preliminary–the determination of what kind of pope is needed.

Cardinal Ouellet’s prominence seems to suggest that whether or not he becomes the first pope from the new world, whoever succeeds John Paul will be a man like him.

Father Raymond J. de Souza, a chaplain at Queen’s University in Ontario is covering the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II, the beatification of Mother Teresa, and associated events from Rome for the National Post and Fox News.



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