The archbishop of Buenos Aires has just been elected Pope on the second day of the conclave. White smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel signalled the selection just after 7 p.m. local time.
Maclean’s correspondent Brian Bethune is in Rome and has been filing reports since the start of the conclave:
Tuesday, March 12
7:32 a.m.: There are only so many ways Canadians get internationally famous.
There’s hockey, of course, and that guy up in space, and a teenage pop star. But the best-known Canadian name around the world right now may belong to a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.
In St Peter’s Square the night before the conclave to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI was to begin, there were three sorts of people milling around, and the ordinary faithful were the fewest in number. The police presence was massive, large enough to be the group most at risk from nuns—easily the most aggressive drivers in Vatican City if not in Rome—flying around in tiny cars.
Most of the cops were engaged in reading their smartphones—in Toronto public safety campaigns are directed at texting-distracted drivers, here they must lose distracted pedestrians in large numbers—or keeping a bored eye on the metal detectors the cardinal electors will pass through on their way to the Sistine Chapel. But both groups were outnumbered by the media staking out prize positions, some from unexpected places, like a Korean wire service or New Delhi TV.
They’re all happy to talk to a Canadian journalist, mostly because they’re down the media pecking order—a telegenic Portuguese-speaking priest with a sizeable entourage took up serious acreage for his interview—but partly because any given Canadian just might know Cardinal Marc Ouellet.
“Your cardinal stands a chance,” exclaims Indian reporter Noupur Tiwari of NDTV, a veteran of papal conclaves—she was here in 2005 for the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Then there were only two Indian cardinals; now there are five, all of voting age. (“There’s just the one Korean,” throws in a clearly unhappy South Korean journalist, “and he’s too old.”)
Interest in India is high, continues Tiwari, because of the rising number of cardinals and Indian Catholics, now 18 million strong), a relatively new female Indian saint and Mother Teresa’s ongoing canonization process. But especially because of the widespread feeling that this might be the moment the papacy leaves European hands for the first in 1,300 years. If it does, they’ll have much bigger entourages next time around.
In all the Third World pope buzz that has swirled since Pope Benedict announced his resignation a month ago, most has focused on African or Asian papabili.
Strangely little, given how South America is the most Catholic of continents, has been said about Latin America (Mexico and Central America add another 100 million to the total.) Until very recently. Suddenly, everyone is talking about Brazil’s Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, Archbishop of Sao Paulo, the largest archdiocese in the world’s largest Catholic.
Viewing his record and his lack of charismatic presence–the same knock that may prove decisive in the case of Canada’ Cardinal Marc Oullett–points to only two favourable points: the age (63) is good, and he apparently gets along splendidly with the cardinals of the Curia, the papal bureaucrats whose incompetence and worse has made Church governance among the key issues–if not the single most important one–that the cardinals will weigh in their choice for pope. By this theory, the Italians–by which Vatican waters mean the bureaucrats–know they can’t get their wish, an Italian and pro-Curia pontiff, so they’ll settle for what’s important in that combo: the pro-Curia part. (In mirror opposite, the reformers are said to be coalescing around an Italian, Milan’s Cardenal Angelo Scola, to sweeten their bitter change package.)
Like every other pathway proposed–and assiduously leaked by interested parties–for any of a half-dozen papal contenders, it’s perfectly logical.
Unlike most, moreover, it does actually reflect what is a serious divisive issue within the College of Cardinals. Whether the business-as-usual (with a few tweaks, of course) cardinals or the housecleaners prevail, however, will probably not turn on specific candidates, but on whether those voters–67, more than half–appointed by Benedict think the pope emeritus was hamstrung all along by his bureaucracy or by his own missteps.
The Italian media, not exactly known for their even-handed lack of national bias in soccer coverage, are no less intensely nationalistic when it comes to another favourite national sport, pope picking. It’s anointed Milan Cardinal Angelo Scola the favourite.
That’s hardly surprising: for one thing, anyone who wants an Italian AND a reformer has few options. For another, a lot of non-Italians like him too. At 71 he is neither too old nor too young–it’s still uncertain how Benedict’s resignation will play out in all its possible ramifications, but it has surely made the traditional age calculation at best an uncertain factor. The son of a truck driver, who turned to the priesthood relatively late (age 29), Scola has known Benedict for 40 years and is close to him theologically and personally.
His election might foretell what one Catholic commentator has called ”the continuation of the Benedictine papacy by other means.” Perhaps more intriguingly, Scola’s apparent willingness to spearhead the cardinal bloc wishing to thoroughly revamp the Curia probably means that reform was indeed the principal task Benedict felt unable to take on in his final years, but was equally unwilling to let fester until his death.
Still waiting for today’s smoke….
Wednesday, March 13
8:49 a.m.: The first murder of crows to fly by this morning was only five in number, a wholly good thing in itself: Canadian crows may sound like rusty gate hinges, but Roman crows sound like angry rusty gate hinges.
But more importantly, the crows came from the right, the lucky direction for crow augury around here since Romulus killed Remus. The luck has yet to do much for anyone in the Sistine Chapel, but it’s early days as Canada’s Fr. Thomas Rosica tells a Vatican press conference: only Pius XII in 1939 was elected as early as the third ballot.
The unlikeliness of a new pope this morning didn’t stop people in their tens of thousands coming to St. Peter’s Square any more than the driving rain did. There were Brazilian and Romanian flags-the atmosphere does have a certain similarity to a Euro Cup match-Polish monks and Scottish priests, and nuns both numerous, and to North American eyes, startlingly young. Like everyone else they are just waiting.
The Vatican Press Office evidently thought bored journalists were bound to start trouble and called their press conference, which had so little news to impart, that it was reduced to giving the press excessively detailed information about the chemicals in the smoke.
During the briefing Fr. Rosica inadvertently referred to Benedict as the pope. But that too is understandable, because the idea of an ex-pope watching on TV the cardinals file into the Sistine Chapel to elect his successor is still mind-boggling.