A coalition of Ratzingerians and Italians have apparently lined up some 40 votes for Cardinal Scola, and the Curia are fighting back with Cardinal Scherer. If there’s white smoke after the first few ballots — i.e., on Wednesday — that’s probably a sign that Scola’s backers have turned it into a straight-up two-man race, and that most cardinals have decided to back Scola against the Curia. But if the conclave goes into a second full day, and balloting continues on Thursday, that will mean Scola has faltered, and the cardinals are looking to a compromise choice.
I disagree with the conventional wisdom that says there are no frontrunners in this conclave. I think conclave expert Anura Guruge has it right: There are frontrunners, it’s just that we who are outside the process can’t know for sure who they are. I’m pretty confident that the cardinal electors themselves not only know who they will be voting for on the first couple of ballots, but also have pretty solid fallback plans for who to move to if their first choices — Scola, Scherer, whoever — can’t make it over the top. This is where a figure like Cardinal Ouellet emerges: He’s on the radar of most of the electors as a clear choice – he has a lot of pluses, and the only negative I’ve heard about him is that one of his speeches fell flat, which is hardly a dealbreaker — and could emerge on the papal balcony on Thursday.
So as of now, I’d say it looks like Scola on Wednesday or Ouellet on Thursday. The Irish bookmakers are saying Scola — which is not insignificant, because, after all, they called it for Ratzinger last time — but I’d put my money on Ouellet. He has something of an “excitement factor” as a non-European, but he is reassuringly conservative in demeanor: I think this last point is very important to the cardinals, who, more than anything, want to avoid making a risky choice, one that may be very exciting for the first few days but that may turn out badly. (Look at Ouellet in this recent video interview with Canadian journalist Peter Mansbridge. He appears intelligent but very low-key.) I personally would prefer someone like Schoenborn, Ravasi, Tagle, or even the 80-year-old Kasper; but the cardinals have a crushing burden of responsibility on their shoulders, and they want to play it safe and get it right. So I think Ouellet is the sort of person they are looking for. (It is also probably very low on their list of considerations that Ouellet is a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, which for me is one of his most important positives.)
But what if even Ouellet, or whoever happens to be cast in the role of safe second-day compromise, can’t get to 77? That’s when somebody like Cardinal Koenig comes up with somebody like Cardinal Wojtyla, and the cardinals shock the world. This would of course be very exciting, and I’d love to see it; but I predict Ouellet.