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Conclave 2013: A battle between ‘Rome’ and ‘reform’?

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Personally, I think it’s a shame there isn’t a Nixon-style Committee to Re-elect the Pope (CREEP) because, as the great Father Z observes today, none of the front-runners truly embodies Benedict XVI’s vision of a Church renewed through purification of the liturgy. Traddies may dream of Cardinals Ranjith or Burke emerging on the balcony, but it’s extremely unlikely to happen. The best they can hope for is a Pope who sustains Benedict’s reforms and doesn’t allow the world’s bishops to lock Summorum Pontificum in a drawer and throw away the key, as so many of them are dying to do.

Cardinal Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, preached this morning. Thank God he’s too old to be elected or even vote. His sermon called for “tireless promotion of justice and peace”, waffle that Fr Z suggests is a coded appeal for a “Pope Paul VII” who would flip the calendar back to the 1970s. But that isn’t going to happen either. Tabletistas are likely to be as disappointed as traditionalists: the vast majority of cardinal electors are theological conservatives.

Seasoned Rome-watcher Phil Lawler reckons the conclave will reflect “the clash between two incompatible visions of how the Catholic Church should present herself to the world“. It’s not about liturgy, theology or politics: it’s about the Roman culture of secrecy that Sodano, Bertone and the old guard in the curia did so little to dismantle, despite the urgings of Pope Benedict. That culture enabled child abusers to escape justice and punished senior clergy who called for fundamental reform of a sleepy and malignant bureaucracy. To quote Lawler:

The Old Guard at the Vatican cherishes a certain distinctive approach to Church governance: an impersonal, top-down approach, in which officials make decisions without offering explanations, and dispense information strictly on a need-to-know basis.

Like any entrenched bureaucracy, the Old Guard at the Vatican protects its own position. So the Old Guard does not want the College of Cardinals to press for more information about the recent embarrassments of the Roman Curia, most conspicuously the “Vatileaks” scandal. Since the Old Guard is the best-organised bloc among the cardinals, its members do not want to allow time for other blocs to form; thus the Old Guard pressed for a quick conclave, in which the cardinals would choose a new Pontiff without pausing to ask inconvenient questions or consider unwanted possibilities.

Do the Old Guard have a candidate? Possibly Cardinal Scherer of Brazil, described as the candidate of the “business-as-usual” faction in this sharp analysis by Fr Mark Drew in The Catholic Herald. Writes Fr Drew:

The latter [busines-as-usual curial faction] are so discredited that they know that one of their own cannot win, and hence they are trying to talk up Scherer as a liberal, so as to gain credibility for him with the media and with the small remnant of moderately liberal cardinals. In reality they favour him because they think they can control him.

It must be stressed that “liberal” in this context means soft conservatism rather than the fully fledged counter-reformers. They are not liberals as that term is understood in US or European politics: the New York Times is not fielding a candidate. The most liberal wing in the College has been deprived of a leader by the death of Cardinal Martini, who in any case was unable to prevent Ratzinger’s election last time round. Since then, several prominent “Martinians” have reached the age limit or otherwise passed from the scene. Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles and the Belgian Cardinal Danneels (the latter of whom was massively influential in Europe for decades) have suffered serious damage to their prestige from being exposed as protectors of paedophile priests.

I do recommend reading Fr Drew’s piece in full. As he says, journalists are floundering this time around because they can’t see beyond the dichotomy of “conservative” and “progressive”. But if we see things in terms of Rome v reform, then paradoxically the strongest candidate of the reformers is an Italian with an insider’s knowledge of the Vatican: Cardinal Scola of Milan, who is known to be infuriated by curial corruption and, as Fr Drew says, “knows where the bodies are buried”. He’s also, as my colleague Tim Stanley points out, the bookies’ favourite. And he’s rare among Italian prelates in fully implementing Benedict XVI’s liberation of the Latin Mass. The Church could do worse. Meanwhile, I still haven’t quite got my head round the weirdness of the last Pope being still alive.

This is an article by Damian Thompson of The Telegraph. Quite controversial.

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