Popin’ ain’t easy, and the aging Pope Benedict XVI has realized this. Citing his “weakness,” he declared himself unfit for office, and effective 8 p.m. Central European Time Feb. 28, he will resign. He is the first pope to resign since 1415, when Gregory XII left to end the Western Schism.
This leaves important questions unanswered: Who will the cardinals choose to replace him? Will the new pope be more liberal? What will Joseph Ratzinger do now? Does he get to keep the Popemobile?
The papal conclave has a potpourri of candidates to choose from — any cardinal could be elected. However, some frontrunners stand out, at least according to the press and Internet bookkeepers: Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson (Ghana), Cardinal Marc Ouellet (Canada), and Cardinal Francis Arinze (Nigeria), among others. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who is the dean of the College of Cardinals (Ratzinger’s former position), has also been considered for the position, but his election is unlikely due to his advanced age.
As for the other three, how might their papacies turn out?
Arinze, from Nigeria, is the oldest likely candidate. He is 80 and is thus ineligible to vote for pope. However, he can still be selected by the rest of the cardinals for the papal position.
Arinze is conservative, theologically speaking. He has likened homosexuality to pornography, infanticide and adultery in the past. He also does not support the use of condoms to curb the spread of AIDS in Africa. However, he has an excellent record in the world of interfaith relations: he is president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and has, in the past, used his skills as a mediator to end religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. He is a strong pacifist, and interfaith dialogue would likely be a major feature of his papacy.
Ouellet is another likely candidate. He is from Canada — Quebec, to be precise — and yes, he does play hockey. In fact, Ouellet was inspired to join the priesthood while recovering from a hockey injury in high school, and he still plays hockey with his nephews.
Ouellet has also not expressed positive views of the gay community, and he doesn’t support abortion even in the case of rape. Ouellet has also in the past expressed a reluctance to becoming pope, calling the workload a “nightmare.” Whether televised Catholic Masses would be rescheduled so as to not coincide with Montreal Canadiens games is yet to be determined.
Turkson, from Ghana, is the most likely candidate. He’s relatively young (63) and most commentators consider him to be the “moderate” candidate. He has written extensively on the failure of the international financial system and has suggested means for reform in a paper titled “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority,” which calls for taxation on all financial transactions and is very critical of “neoliberalism.”
Controversially, Turkson has suggested that condoms could be used to curb the spread of AIDS in Africa, at least between faithful couples that include one infected member. He has not, however, compromised on views on homosexuality or abortion.
Turkson also showed support for the Ugandan “Kill the Gays” bill, saying that although the punishments were “exaggerated,” the “intensity of the reaction [to homosexuality] is probably commensurate with tradition.” Turkson is unlikely to make tolerance for the gay community a priority in his papacy, and in fact it is quite likely that anti-gay policies of the Church will increase in scope if he is elected.
It looks like reform to the Church won’t come any time soon, then. The best a liberal secular person could hope for is Turkson perhaps tolerating the use of condoms by Catholics, which is unlikely. However, the election of a black pope would be a milestone for the Church, which has not elected an African pope since Gelasius I in 492 A.D. and has never elected a black pope at all. The likely election of either Turkson or Arinze will also demonstrate how the demographics of the Church are changing and how Africa is becoming more central in Church affairs. Ultimately, however, electing a black pope may be as far as the election gets. When the white smoke rises from the Sistine Chapel, we probably won’t see a reformer elected, but another moderate who will keep the same policies on abortion, homosexuality and contraception that the Church has kept for thousands of years.
Justin Roczniak is the Op-Ed editor of the Triangle. He can be contacted at [email protected].