The conclave's missing dimension

The conclave's missing dimension

     Cardinal Angelo Scola among faithful in Italy

It can’t be easy to cast that first ballot in a conclave, and by all accounts cardinals in Rome are showing due diligence as they research papal candidates.

They rely, first of all, on the impressions formed in personal encounters they may have had with the men considered papabili. Then they consider past events – mostly in Rome – where leading cardinals have spoken or somehow weighed in over the years.

And, as Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said this week, they are “using the Internet a lot.” Yes, cardinals are Googling each other, and could it really be otherwise in this day and age?

But there’s an aspect that’s often missing from this rapid round of vetting and appraisal, one that should be crucial to the choice of the next pope: the pastoral dimension.

For all their research and discussion, cardinals have a very hard time gauging how a papabile gets along in his home diocese -- how successful he’s been in energizing the church at the local level, how many bridges he’s been able to build with the larger society and how effective he is when interacting with his own faithful.

That’s a pretty big blind spot when it comes to choosing a pope, especially when a perennial requisite is that the next pontiff be a “pastoral” figure.

The fact is, most papal contenders are assessed when cardinals’ paths cross in Rome: at synods of bishops, at consistories and, to a smaller degree, at conferences and meetings sponsored by various Vatican agencies.

Cardinals at these venues become well-known mainly by giving speeches or delivering papers. These are rather dry exercises, and it explains why even some leading papabili are considered “good on paper” but unknown quantities when it comes to motivating and guiding their flock.

Cardinals are generally not in the habit of dropping into the home dioceses of papal candidates to watch them in action. Yet this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of pastoral leadership. It’s easy to come to Rome and give a speech; it’s much harder to respond to challenges by Catholics and clergy, explain Catholic teaching to a skeptical society or rebuild credibility in the wake of the sex abuse scandals.

This “missing dimension” should weigh on the minds of cardinals as they gather in Rome, and prompt some additional research -- at least more in-depth consultation with each region's electors.

Of the 117 potential cardinal-electors, 63 are active resident archbishops, in dioceses populated by more than 130 million Catholics. Among this group are at least 10 cardinals being considered for the papacy. In the calculus of papal qualities, their role as pastors should be part of the equation.

5 comments (Add your own)

1. CarmSaudi wrote:
Can you list the ten who you truly think are in the running

Sat, March 2, 2013 @ 7:14 AM

2. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh wrote:
Thankyou for this article and for highlighting the importance of looking into the pastoral dimension of a candidate. From my perspective as a Catholic physician who has met many who have been sexually abused by priests and as one who was sexually assaulted myself by a Carmelite priest when I was a young doctor in Dublin, Ireland, I have found that all roads of responsibility, for the scandal of clergy sexual abuse of innocent children, lead to the popes over the centuries and to the Vatican in Rome. The scandal is worldwide. There seems to be a lack of care by these celibate men for protecting the innocence of children, even though Jesus had harsh words for anyone who would take away the innocence of a child.

The only member of the hierarchy that has the skill sets to be a good administrator, a holy pastoral man of the people, and who has the courage to make the predator clergy accountable, in my experience, is the present Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin.

Archbishop D. Martin was a trouble-shooter for the Vatican for 30yrs before returning to Dublin. He worked at the United Nations and in Geneva and in many other places around the world. He has made the Carmelite priest who sexually assaulted me accountable. His is a man who gets the job done. Some of the hierarchy who want to continue the sick secret culture of the Vatican want to marginalize him, I believe.

When Archbishop D. Martin asked 5 bishops in Ireland to resign, because of their complicity in the clergy sexual abuse scandals in Ireland, all 5 bishops resigned, but 2 of the bishops resigned under protest, because they were following the poor direction of the Pope. The Pope reversed the resignations of those 2 bishops, so the Pope undermined his own Archbishop. Dr Martin was very gracious about it.

I wondered what made Archbishop D. Martin so strong. Having met him in person, I realize that his whole life focus is on Jesus and doing what he believes Jesus would do in all circumstances. As I reflect on the hierarchy in general, I believe that the worldwide crisis has continued because most of the hierarchy are 'yes men' or followers of the Pope and not of Jesus.

I believe Archbishop Diarmuid Martin would be an excellent Pope, if the Holy Spirit would find a way for that to happen.

Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Sat, March 2, 2013 @ 9:20 AM

3. Kris wrote:
I agree about the need for a "pastoral" sensibility in the next pope. But I think some cardinals have it without being an active archbishop--like Fernando Filoni, Iraq nuncio who stayed and ministered as the country was evacuated.

Sat, March 2, 2013 @ 11:56 AM

4. Kris wrote:
Aside from managing a diocese, can't a cardinal's "pastoral" experience be inferred by his past actions as, say, a nuncio in a war-torn region? Take one example: Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who as Iraq nuncio in 2003 stayed to minister and lead relief efforts while other officials evacuated. He said he stayed because if the shepherd leaves the sheep scatter. This younger (66) Italian cardinal knows the Middle East, is a China expert, and has served as "sostituto." Yet he's being overlooked as "papabile" because of his diplomat/nuncio background, which, arguably, has given him a broader view of the Church and its needs than, say, an archbishop serving his own country men and women.

Mon, March 4, 2013 @ 8:49 AM

5. David Philippart wrote:
A very important point--thank you. One way would be for the cardinal-electors to speak to the priests of the diocese of the cardinal they are considering.

Tue, March 5, 2013 @ 10:52 AM

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