Everyone knows Cardinal Dolan and his media acumen and warm and pastoral heart, and so Americans having to talk about the papal horserace, so to speak (which it is not, but the comparison to the Iowa caucuses has begun in earnest already), will mention his name. And while I’d be happy to be his campaign manager — having been around him now and again over the last years, I know he is a holy man of deep faith with all the aforementioned and obvious skills — I don’t know that Tim from St. Louis is going to be the next Pope. It’s plausible, mind you. And many people around Rome will second me on that, specifically because of the respect he earned among his college colleagues during one address in particular on the new evangelization he delivered on the eve of his elevation to cardinal.
Talk of Marc Cardinal Ouellet is much more realistic. He is head of the Congregation for Bishops in the Roman Curia and the president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. I got to spend a fair amount of time with him while participating in a conference run by the commission and the Knights of Columbus in December. He’s got a steady hand and is widely respected — and his resemblance to John Paul II in certain — even physical — ways is uncanny. At one point I even pulled a priest aside to whom I’d made that observation to motion: You see? Standing behind him, you would have thought you were standing behind JPII.
So, among other qualifications, he looks papal, as we would say in assessing the field in the most superficial of ways!
More important, he is also, by all accounts, brilliant and holy. Both of which come in handy.
His congregation is the one where you get a real sense of the men of the Church: what is happening, who is being called, who is answering. You see the worst and the best. It’s the congregation that makes recommendations about bishops and hears complaints about bishops. The good news is I have it on good counsel that there is holiness there. And given the pain and the filth (to use a B16 word) and the evil we’ve lived through on account of bishops in decades past behaving badly, that holiness is essential, and a great blessing.
The Pope stepped aside because he no longer has the physical strength for this all-encompassing office. The Pope stepped aside because at this “hinge” moment (to use a word from George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism), someone like Cardinal Oullet who is younger and fully aware of all the challenges, and well equipped spiritually and intellectually, might just be the man to succeed Peter.