Despite the fact that they want to get out of Rome in time for Holy Week, it looks like the cardinals are not going to let themselves get rushed into electing a pope. This AFP story indicates that they are taking seriously their role as a board of trustees, investigating the causes of — and possible solutions to — the mess in the Vatican. A quick beginning for the conclave would favor the better-organized curial factions, because they were already in Rome and could put together an election strategy — basically, set the terms of the cardinals’ debate and speed somebody congenial to themselves into the papal office. One of them was quoted anonymously as wishing for an election by the end of this week.
But it looks like the out-of-town cardinals are pushing back – and using this sede vacante as an opportunity to address the serious problems at the head office. One of these cardinals is America’s Francis George:
“It’s not a question of rules. Even if all the cardinal electors were here in Rome I would still not want to go into the conclave now,” George said in an interview with La Stampa daily.
“We need the necessary information to be able to make the right choice. What went wrong, to create this break in trust within the government of the Holy See? It is a concern, and one we’ve not had a formal report about,” he added.
Another is Walter Cardinal Kasper, a curial cardinal who is an ally of the reformers:
“We need a new way of governing the Church. A more horizontal government. The Curia must be revolutionised,” German Cardinal Walter Kasper said in an interview with La Repubblica daily, referring to the Vatican’s bickering governing body.
The Curia has become one of the key issues of debates surrounding the future of the Church after secret papal documents leaked to the press last year in a scandal dubbed “Vatileaks” alleged corruption and intrigue in the administration and infighting many hope the new pope will tackle.
“I think the Curia in general, beyond whatever emerges from Vatileaks, needs to be revolutionised. And as well as the word reform, there must be a second: transparency. The Curia must begin to open up, and not fear transparency,” Kasper said.
These are serious issues that go beyond the immediate choice of which man will be elected pope. But the sense that there are major problems that need to be addressed is having an effect on that selection process, making a surprise choice more likely. Cardinal George is quoted as follows: “I can tell you that the list of papal contenders is growing rather than shrinking. . . . The names bandied around in the newspapers make sense, but we are also talking about candidates which have not been mentioned so far.”
There is a sense of possibility in the air. Ratzinger’s sudden resignation may be the equivalent of a quick-kick in football: a tactical choice to give up possession of the field on your own terms, strengthening your team’s position by taking the other team by surprise. I suspect, and hope, that the Catholic Church — and those outside it who wish it well — will end up being very grateful that Ratzinger made this bold choice.