The next pope’s ideal profile began to take shape on Tuesday as cardinals held a second day of pre-conclave talks — a man with pastoral experience, missionary energy and few ties to the Vatican’s unruly government.
Cardinals waved cheerfully to journalists at the gates of the Vatican but declined to divulge details of the closed-door debate on who among them could be the best candidate for the papacy following Benedict XVI’s sudden resignation.
Vatican experts say one of the hot-button issues now uniting many of the cardinals is the need to chose a new leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics capable of putting his stamp on the Roman Curia, the central government of the Church.
Secret papal documents leaked to the press last year alleged corruption and intrigue in the Vatican administration and unearthed infighting which many hope the new pope will tackle.
“What began as a trickle has become a torrent in the last 24 hours of cardinals insisting that the number one issue is governance,” said expert John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter.
This might mean choosing someone who has no previous ties to the opaque Vatican bureaucracy, such as Italian Angelo Scola, who could appeal because “he knows the lay of the land but has never been a Vatican official,” Allen said.
He also has much more extensive pastoral experience than Jospeh Ratzinger did before he became pope — but so does Brazilian Odilo Scherer, “an old Vatican hand (who) brings together concrete pastoral experience and strong governor skills,” Allen said.
The “winning ticket” according to many watchers would be a pope with strong pastoral skills — such as the popular Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines or South African Wilfrid Napier — whose right-hand man, the Secretary of State, could be Italian.
Although over a quarter of the cardinal electors are Italian, many prelates have been pushing for leadership of the Church to be distanced from the hugely embarrassing Vatileaks scandal in Rome.
“The ability to govern is very important. It would appear that substantial problems have been identified through Vatileaks, these need to be addressed,” Australian cardinal George Pell told the Vatican Insider newspaper, calling for a pope who can “improve the morale of the Curia.”
“We need somebody who is a strategist, a decision-maker, a planner, somebody who has got strong pastoral capacities already demonstrated so that he can take a grip of the situation and take the Church forward,” he said.
US cardinal Francis George said the electors would be asking “those cardinals involved in the governing of the Curia as to what they think needs to be changed,” adding that the frankest debating took place over the coffee breaks between the official talks.
Among other voices, there are those who insist parts of the world which have been under-represented so far should have a shot at the papacy, including candidates from Latin America, the world’s most Catholic continent.
Should one of their own not be favoured, experts say Latin American cardinals could back Canadian Marc Ouellet, who has spent part of his career as a missionary in Colombia and is a keen pastoral figure who also has experience within the Vatican.
The conclave is very different from the 2005 election which saw Benedict take St. Peter’s chair.
The then Cardinal Ratzinger was an expert on the Curia, but critics say he failed to crack down on dissent, preferring to dedicate his energies as pope to intellectual pursuits.
All 115 cardinals eligible to vote need to be present before the Vatican meetings can set the date for the start of the conclave. Experts suggest it could begin next week.
In the meantime, the debate continues among cardinals not only in the Vatican meetings but also in private talks among cardinals gathering in pontifical colleges and private apartments, away from the harsh media gaze.
Little is likely to filter through as they have all now sworn a solemn oath not to reveal details about the election on pain of excommunication.