U.S. cardinals considered contenders

Idea of American pontiffvirtually ‘taboo until now’


VATICAN CITY — On the day when three different sized white cassocks were unpacked and placed in the room next to the Sistine Chapel for the next pope, there is talk a cardinal from the United States could end up wearing one of them.

It’s the first time Americans have been considered serious contenders, particularly if voting for the leading candidates becomes deadlocked.

“The idea of an American pope was essentially taboo until now,” said John Thavis, longtime Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service and author of Vatican Diaries.

Officially none of the cardinals is talking, so these names come from Vaticanisti, journalists who regularly cover the Vatican and lay claim to inside sources. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 63, of New York, a gregarious extrovert whose homilies are soul-stirring, is reportedly backed by some powerful Italians who long for a return to the style of Pope John Paul II. Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a Capuchin who preaches well in five languages and cleaned up after sex-abuse disasters in three dioceses, has media interest, but it’s not clear he has a voting bloc.

John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has proposed that if the cardinals are open to an American, Pittsburgh’s longtime bishop and native son Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., best fits the criteria many have indicated they want.

In on-and off-the-record interviews before the preconclave media blackout, various cardinals described a tangibly holy evangelist with international appeal and enough of a spine to clean up a bureaucratic nightmare in the Vatican.

According to numerous accounts, Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71, of Milan; Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, 63, of Brazil; and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, a Canadian who most recently led the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, all have support, but nothing close to the 77 votes required for election by two-thirds of the 115 voting cardinals.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa estimates Cardinal Scola, an intellectual known for dialogue with Muslims, has 35 to 40 votes, primarily from Europe and some from the United States. But the Philadelphia-based Vaticanisto Rocco Palmo, who is on the speed-dial of some cardinals, says Italian cardinals are wary because of his ties to Communion and Liberation, an Italian Catholic movement with political overtones.

Cardinal Scherer is said to suffer from charisma deficit: his sermons are bland. He is, according to Vaticanisti, the candidate of the Vatican bureaucracy’s old guard. La Stampa thinks he has 25 votes. Backing from the old guard could alienate cardinals who see Vatican bureaucracy as an inept, pastorally tone-deaf source of scandal.

Cardinal Ouellet, a Scripture scholar, is usually named the third-leading contender, though La Repubblica considers the two early leaders to be Cardinal Scola and Cardinal Dolan.

What Cardinals Scola, Scherer, and Ouellet lack in magnetism, Cardinal Dolan supplies several times over.

Cardinal O’Malley has drawn a lot of media interest for his track record on sex abuse and the brown habit that symbolizes love and humility in the Catholic world.

Mr. Allen believes Cardinal Wuerl may be the most qualified American, with a decade of Vatican experience, a history of successfully confronting its bureaucrats, and a gift for building consensus. But he may be more a kingmaker than a king in the conclave.

There still may be big resistance to an American. Not only is there a long tradition against a pope from any superpower, but at least one U.S. cardinal has noted that in nations where America is viewed as the enemy, some Catholics might be endangered for association with an American pope.

Plenty of non-Americans are getting mentioned.

According to La Stampa, Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio, 76, an Argentinian who takes the bus to work and is said to have finished second in the 2005 conclave, and Cardinal Louis Antonio Tagle, 55, a gifted evangelist from the Philippines, gave influential speeches in preconclave meetings. Cardinal Tagle, along with Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, 68, of Vienna, were cautiously endorsed by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests for speaking boldly against abuse and its cover-up.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ann Rodgers is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

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