By Andrea Gagliarducci
“We are not ready to enter the conclave,” Cardinal Francis George of Chicago plainly told the Italian newspaper La Stampa today, adding, “I never felt that we would begin the conclave on March 11th.”
The American cardinals are first in line among those who do not want to hurry the conclave, and they are not alone.
In the general congregations, the schedule of meetings and all other matters are decided by a majority vote, and the dean of the cardinals is just a “primus inter pares,” i.e. the first among equals.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the man who fulfills that role, initially sketched out a tight schedule for the cardinals pre-conclave meetings. On Monday, two pre-conclave meetings were scheduled in the New Synod Hall: one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
But that schedule was not kept for the following days, since the majority of the cardinals asked to hold only morning meetings, leaving the afternoon free for informal meetings and chats.
It is a subtle battle, as all Vatican battles are.
Gianfranco Svidercoschi, one of the most prominent Vatican observers, asserted in a March 4 discussion that there is “a certain risk that the conclave will be split between two contenders.”
He thinks that an Italian would then emerge as a compromise candidate.
“It is the same situation that occurred in the 1978 conclave, where two candidates struck the conclave and Wojtyla’s star rose. At this time, the candidates are foreigners and the new star would be Italian.”
In the October 1978 conclave, the two main contenders for the papacy were Cardinal Giuseppe Siri and Cardinal Giovanni Benelli. The first was supported by those who thought the Second Vatican Council was being interpreted in a way that strayed from the Church’s tradition, while those who agreed with the way the council was being implemented backed the second candidate and wanted to continue along the same course.
Both groups were strong enough that neither of them was able to surpass the two-thirds threshold required for electing a Pope. So, to break the stalemate, Cardinal Franz Koenig put forward the name of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla.
What remains to be seen is whether the story will repeat itself at the 2013 Conclave.
Michele Zanzucchi, the editor of Città Nuova magazine published by the Focolari movement, maintained in a March 5 conversation that the “American, Latin American and Asian groups of cardinal seem to be solid. Europeans, on the other hand, still seem to be bewildered.”
In fact, there are two schools of thought among the cardinals about what type of Pope is needed for the Church’s current problems, particularly those related to the administration – called the Roman Curia – that assists him in his ministry.
Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston summed up those positions at a March 5 press conference in Rome.
“There are two general views. The first one maintains that, since the current Church’s problem comes from the Curia, we should elect someone outside the Curia; the second contests that there is a need for an internal leader, since the first commitment of the new Pope should be the Curia reform.”
To be clear, the main point of divergence is not tied to doctrinal differences but is more about who is better qualified to carry out reform and push ahead with some of Benedict XVI’s initiatives.
Meanwhile, those cardinals who work in the Curia or are connected to it were able to tie up some of the schedule of the cardinals who want an outsider to reform the Curia. They did this by announcing a Eucharistic adoration and Vespers ceremony for the afternoon of March 6 in St. Peter’s Basilica.
A commission of three cardinals that was chosen at random to assist the dean with his duties, for three days, advanced the idea for the ceremony. The group consists of Cardinals Re, Sepe and Rodé – all proponents of a candidate from the Curia – along with the Colleges of Cardinals’ chamberlain, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
The prayer meeting was held in St. Peter’s Basilica. The cardinals were not required to attend, and it might be possible to draw a rough sketch of the groups that will operate inside the conclave based on who is present or not.
As for the names being floated right now as potential candidates for the next Pope, the general feeling among Vatican analysts is that these are just “trial balloons” and that the curiali and shepherds from outside the Curia will go with someone not yet in the limelight.