I respectfully disagree with our friend Father Sirico on one particular point: I don’t think it’s too early in the process for there to be a front-runner for the papacy. Check out this Time magazine story from January 2, 2005 – three full months before the death of Pope John Paul II:
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the chief architect of Pope John Paul II’s traditionalist moral policy, has long been a bugaboo for liberal Catholics. But they had stopped worrying that the German might one day ascend to St. Peter’s throne. His hard-line views and blunt approach had earned him the epithet of panzerkardinal and too many enemies. Well, their worrying may now resume. Sources in Rome tell TIME that Ratzinger has re-emerged as the top papal candidate within the Vatican hierarchy, joining other front runners such as Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan and Claudio Hummes of Sao Paolo. “The Ratzinger solution is definitely on,” said a well-placed Vatican insider.
There are no immediate signs that John Paul’s health has taken a turn for the worse, and he has publicly ruled out becoming the first Pope in eight centuries to retire voluntarily.
I think it’s especially delightful that the name of the Time reporter who broke this story is not something like “Guido Vespucci” or “Francis X. O’Malley”. . . but Jeff Israely. God is involved in the election of a pope, as He is in all the twists and turns of human events, but it is also a very human process; and human processes can sometimes yield their secrets to the shoe leather of working pressies.
As to who the current front-runner is, I think Father Sirico and Kathryn Lopez are right on Cardinal Ouellet. I’d add Scola of Milan at the top of the list, just below Ouellet. Bertone is powerful, but has too many enemies; Schoenborn would be great, but conservatives distrust him; my dark-horse candidate from 2005, Peter Turkson, has made some missteps that might give his fellow cardinals pause; and Tagle of Manila looks great on paper — young and dynamic — but is probably too liberal for the current electors.
It will be an exciting few weeks. The interim between the announcement today and the actual resignation is 17 days — roughly the same amount of time that typically elapses between a papal death and the beginning of the conclave to elect a successor. So it would not be out of the question to have a conclave begin on March 1, and a new pope elected by March 3 or 4.