The Ordinary Public Consistory held on Monday 11 February 2013, was called in order to approve the causes for the canonization of new Saints. Because of the presence of a large number of Cardinals, it was the moment chosen by Pope Benedict XVI to make known his resignation from his ministry as Bishop of Rome.
Since that extraordinary announcement made in Latin, received almost in disbelief by the Cardinals, much of what has been written and broadcast has been sensationalist, factually inaccurate and too often rather superficial.
Having worked in the media for more than 40 years, I fully accept that we in Western Europe live in an aggressively secular and materialist society where so much is driven by the insatiable appetite of the fast-moving 24-hour news agenda. The media coverage has failed to go beyond the immediate significance of the event and examine the pastoral and spiritual dimension of Pope Benedict’s decision.
Insight into this aspect is to be found in the historic words themselves spoken by Pope Benedict: “I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
Pope Benedict XVI explained: “For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, (7pm GMT) the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”
Father Federico Lombardi SJ, Director of the Holy See Press Office, said on Monday 11 February that the process for the election of a new Pope, the 265th Successor of Saint Peter, will begin on Friday, 1 March. A few days later, Lombardi said that if all the Cardinals were present in Rome it would be possible to begin the Conclave to elect the new Pope before 15 March 2013. He added that the Cardinals will determine the date.
The Cardinals may decide to hold the Conclave in time for the new Pope to celebrate his Inaugural Mass in St Peter’s Square, on Tuesday, 19 March, the Feast of St Joseph.
On 28 February, the last day of his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI will meet with members of the College of Cardinals in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican. At 5pm Pope Benedict will travel by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo.
The Cardinal Camerlengo, who has a fundamental role during the Sede Vacante, is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB aged 78, the present Cardinal Secretary of State. Cardinal Bertone, a Salesian, was appointed Cardinal Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church by Pope Benedict XVI on 4 April 2007.
The Congregations of Cardinals, held in the Vatican to prepare for the Conclave, will be chaired by Cardinal Angelo Sodano aged 85, Dean of the College of Cardinals, who served as Cardinal Secretary of State from 1990 to 2006.
All Cardinals who are able will attend these vitally important Congregations during which they will spend time in prayer and discussion discerning the will of God as to the sort of person to fill the shoes of the Fisherman. They will be looking at the specific gifts, characteristics, age and health of various members of the College of Cardinals.
There are a number of important administrative tasks that need attending to as a matter of urgency to restore world-wide confidence in the Catholic Church which has been battered by several severe storms during the past 50 years since Pope, now Blessed John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council in St Peter’s Basilica on 11 October 1962.
Great Britain will be represented by Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who will celebrate his 75th Birthday on 17 March; and Cardinal Cormac-Murphy O’Connor, Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster, who reached the age of 80 on 24 August 2012 and is therefore unable to vote in the Conclave, but can take part in the discussions.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols aged 67, Archbishop of Westminster, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has not so far been created a Cardinal but he may be called upon by the BBC to do the commentary which he did so well for BBC Television during the Conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI during April 2005.
There are (as of 11 February 2013) 117 Cardinal-electors that is Cardinals who have not yet reached their 80th birthday. Of these, 61 are European, including 21 from Italy; 19 from Latin America; 14 from North America, 11 from Africa; 11 from Asia and one from Oceania. A two-thirds-plus-one vote majority is required to elect the new Pope.
The Catholic Church needs a younger holy pastor with proven administrative abilities and a heart for the New Evangelisation and an ability to deepen ecumenical relations and promote understanding with those of other Faiths.
The time may well be now for a Pope from Latin America or indeed Africa or Asia, but I believe that the Cardinal-electors might be guided by the Holy Spirit to elect another Italian Cardinal, following in the shoes of a Cardinal from Poland and then a Cardinal from Germany.
After having prayerfully considered the names of the Cardinal-electors, my choice for the new Pope would come from among the following: Cardinal Angelo Scola aged 71, Archbishop of Milan since June 2012. He previously served as Patriarch of Venice since 2002. Or perhaps Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco aged 70, Archbishop of Genoa and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference.
If the Cardinal-electors are guided by the Holy Spirit to look outside Europe then the following Cardinals would be my choice: North America – Cardinal Marc Ouellet, PSS (Society of Priests of St Sulpice) aged 68, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He was Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, 2001-2003, Archbishop of Quebec, 2002-2010, and Primate of Canada. Cardinal Quellet is fluent in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German.
Latin America: Cardinal Odilo Scherer aged 63, Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is a member of the newly created Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation; and another Brazilian, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz aged 65, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Another Cardinal from Latin American, who figured prominently amongst the contenders at 2005 Conclave, is Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, now aged 72, Archbishop of Mexico City and Primate Archbishop of Mexico.
Africa: Cardinal Peter Turkson aged 64, from Ghana, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He served as Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, and President of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, 1997-2005. Cardinal Turkson was Relator General at the special Assembly for Africa, held at the Vatican during October 2009.
Australia: Cardinal George Pell aged 71, the fearlessly outspoken Archbishop of Sydney, who Motto is Be Not Afraid. Cardinal Pell hosted the successful 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney. A member of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Pell was a Papal nominee at the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in Rome, on the New Evangelisation, during October 2012.
A surprise choice as the next Bishop of Rome would be Cardinal Luis Tagle, aged 55, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines. A man of the people, his name has already appeared in many news reports as a serious contender.
Cardinal Tagle was ordained a priest during February 1982 and was created a Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI at a Consistory in St Peter’s Basilica, on 24 November 2012. He too was a Papal nominee at the recent Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation.
In the Old Testament, in the Book of Samuel (chapter 16), God guides the prophet to the man he has chosen to be king over Israel. “God said to Samuel: ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’”
Then “Jesse brought his youngest son to Samuel. “And the Lord said, ‘Arise, anoint him; for this is he.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”
David was God’s surprise choice and not who was expected to be king over Israel!
Cardinal Léon Joseph Suenens, then Archbishop of Malines-Brussels and Primate of the Catholic Church in Belgium, ended the Preface, written at Pentecost 2004, of his inspirational book A New Pentecost, with these words: “I believe in the surprises of the Holy Spirit. John XXIII came as a surprise, and the Council, too. They were the last things we expected. Who would dare to say that the love and imagination of God were exhausted? To hope is a duty, not a luxury. To hope is not to dream, but to turn dreams into reality. Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.”