maandag 18 juni 2012

Introducing a new papal candidate: cardinal Filoni

As a journalist, I pride myself on trying to see things based on the facts as they stand, not as I or someone else might like them to be. Thus whenever I get the “next pope” question, I try to stay tethered to reality, not floating long-shots that might excite one constituency or another, but pointing to figures who seem to have the best chance of actually being elected.

The problem is that when it comes to the essentially unknowable, it’s tough to be confident about what “reality” actually is. There are no polls, no fundraising reports, no ad buys, nothing empirical other than “buzz” to separate serious contenders from the crowd. Recent history suggests that sometimes those perceived front-runners come through, as in Paul VI and Benedict XVI, but other times dark horses emerge, as in John XXIII and John Paul II.

This is by way of introducing a new papal candidate, who I freely confess has not been featured in any of the latest round-ups of contenders (including my own), and someone who would probably be an afterthought in most conversations in Rome about who might come next.

(For the record, there's no sign of a health crisis around Benedict which would suggest a transition is imminent. It's just that with an 85-year-old pope, the question can't help but come up.)

Before rolling out the name, let me tick off what background talks with cardinals from various parts of the world suggest they will be seeking when the next file into the Sistine Chapel:

  • Someone who can get the Vatican under control, especially in light of perceived disarray highlighted by the Vati-leaks mess;
  • Someone with a broad global vision equipped to lead the church in a globalized era, at a time when its greatest growth is outside the West;
  • Someone with enough intellectual wattage and personal courage to defend the church against runaway secularism;
  • Someone capable of advancing the “New Evangelization” by projecting a positive image of the church, either because of their media savvy or their inspiring personal story.

Accomplishing all of that at once is a tall order, but there’s a cardinal waiting in the wings who could seem to fit the bill: Fernando Filoni, 66, currently prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Vatican's sprawling and powerful missionary department.

Filoni recently gave a lengthy interview to the prestigious journal 30 Giorni, covering a wide variety of subjects, from the “Year of Faith”, to China, to his experience as nuncio during the 2003 war in Iraq. Filoni comes off as thoughtful, cosmopolitan, balanced, and sincere, and it could be the kind of thing that propels him into the conversation about papal candidates.

Yes, I know Filoni is an Italian and a career Vatican official, at a time when the leaks scandal hasn’t done much for the stock of either group. Yes, I also know Filoni has a reputation as a reserved figure, not the kind of guy to take the world by storm. Stay with me, and let’s review how Filoni could satisfy the criteria sketched above.

First, Filoni certainly knows the inner workings of the Vatican, having served in the Secretariat of State early in his career, between diplomatic postings, and then from June 2007 to May 2011 as the all-important sostituto, or “substitute,” effectively the pope’s chief of staff. That biography is not an unmixed blessing, because Filoni was on the scene for some of the more spectacular implosions of Benedict’s papacy: the cause célèbre surrounding a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop in 2009, for instance, and the surreal Boffo affair in early 2010.

Yet most observers place blame for those episodes at the feet of Filoni’s former boss, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State. Indeed, conventional wisdom is that Bertone and Filoni, once close, had a falling out. True or not, the perception helps. To some, Filoni could seem perfect – an insider, yet not terribly complicit in the present malaise.

Much the same thing could be said of another former substitute, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, currently prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. The problem with Sandri, however, is that he served in the late John Paul years under former Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and thus arguably could be tied to some of the perceived failures from that period – most especially, inaction in the case of the late Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, on charges of sexual misconduct and abuse. Filoni, at least, does not carry that kind of baggage.

Second, few cardinals could plausibly claim a global vision as deep or as broad.

Consider where Filoni has served, and not as a tourist, but getting to know these cultures both at the top and at the grassroots: Sri Lanka, from 198-83; Iran, 1983-1985, shortly after the Khomeini revolution; Brazil, 1989-92; Hong Kong, 1992-2001, where he opened a “study mission” on mainland China; Jordan and Iraq, 2001-06; the Philippines, 2006-07.
These were hardly pleasure cruises. He was in Tehran during the Iran/Iraq war, in China for the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, and most famously, in Baghdad when the bombs fell in 2003.

Now, as prefect of the Vatican’s missionary department, Filoni also has developed deep contacts with the church across Africa. It’s tough to name a geopolitical priority in the early 21st century – China, Islam, or anything else – which Filoni doesn’t understand from the inside out.

Third, Filoni comes off as a man of faith who won’t brook compromises on Catholic identity, but also someone with a deft touch in engaging forces which can be hostile to the church.

His seminary studies coincided with Vatican II, and his episcopal motto is Lumen gentium Christus, recalling the council’s dogmatic constitution on the church. In his 30 Giorni interview, Filoni says that one of the ways he survived the upheaval of the 1970s, when he was doing graduate study, was by living in a parish rather than a college, so that he never lost contact with the practical concerns of real people, rather than getting caught up in ideological debates.

Despite his erudition, Filoni also appreciates the simple touches. For the “Year of Faith”, his office is distributing a rosary with beads of different colors between the decades, representing the continents: white for Europe, red for America, yellow for Asia, blue for Oceania and green for Africa. The idea is to encourage people to pray for evangelization throughout the world.

Fourth, Filoni may not be a media star, but he does understand how the communication business works. Among other things, one of his degrees is from Rome’s Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali, a prestigious private secular institution, where he studied “techniques of public opinion,” specializing in journalism.

Filoni’s biography could also stir the world’s imagination, especially his record in Iraq.

At a time when all the other Western ambassadors fled for safety, not to mention U.N. officials and even many journalists, Filoni refused, saying he couldn’t abandon the local Catholic community or other suffering Iraqis. “If the pastor flees in moments of difficulty,” he said, “the sheep are also lost.”

Though no fan of Saddam Hussein, Filoni had been an outspoken critic of the Western-imposed sanctions, saying “they hurt the people, not the regime.” He also opposed the U.S.-led invasion, and repeats his judgment in the 30 Giorni interview: “You can’t export democracy through war.”

Filoni remained in the country afterwards, as Christians found themselves primary targets amid rising chaos. He refused to adopt special security measures, wanting to face the same risks as locals who didn’t have access to guards and armored vehicles; he said his aim was to be seen “as an Iraqi, by the Iraqis.” That choice almost cost him dearly in February 2006, when a car bomb went off outside the nunciature, demolishing a garden wall and smashing window panes, but luckily leaving no one hurt.

As a coda to that episode, after the bomb went off, a Muslim contractor showed up at the nunciature with thirty workers to repair the damage, out of respect for the solidarity Filoni had shown.

Given that Iraq is a harrowing symbol of rising anti-Christian violence, Filoni is in a unique position to raise consciousness on the issue.

Naturally, you can’t be around as long as Filoni without drawing some criticism. Aside from mixed reviews for his record as substitute, some also wonder about his affection for the Neocatechumenate, a controversial Catholic movement born in Spain. Most basically, many people would probably say that Filoni’s natural habitat is behind the scenes, not out front.

Yet no one is likely to perfectly incarnate all the things the cardinals may want. The longer they look at Filoni, the more they might like what they see.

(Source: John L Allen Jr in National Catholic Reporter)

woensdag 13 juni 2012

Classroom Exercises on Who Will Be the Next Pope

The Catholic Church is like Fiat-Chrysler. Slumping in Italy and Europe, it is coming back strong in the United States and has its most promising market in the rest of the world. With a clue about who the future pope will be.

The nation that has the largest number of Catholics today is Brazil, with 134 million, more than Italy, France, and Spain put together. Catholicism there has successfully confronted fierce competition, which in recent decades inflicted serious damage on it. Because when liberation theology was in fashion among the neo-Marxist Catholic élite, the faithful did not convert en masse to their message. They went over by the millions to the new Pentecostalist Churches, with their festive celebrations, music, singing, healings, speaking in tongues. But now this exodus has stopped. In the Catholic Church as well, the faithful are finding the warmth of participation and firmness of doctrine that three and four centuries ago brought success to the Reductions, the Jesuit missions among the Indians. Next year, world youth day will be in Brazil. Pope Joseph Ratzinger has promised that he will be there.

Then there are the Asian tigers. South Korea is the emblem of these. There the number of Catholics is rising at an astonishing rate, with tens of thousands of adults baptized each year. They were the soul of the popular movement that peacefully overthrew the military dictatorship. And they are an active part of the productive classes that produced the Korean economic miracle. In the capital, Seoul, they are now 15 percent of the population, when only half a century ago they didn't even exist. And as in a big company, the Korean Catholic Church has set itself the goal of converting 20 percent of the population by 2020: "Evangelization Twenty Twenty" is the title of the program.

In Asia, the Philippines is the only nation in which Catholics are in the majority, with 76 million faithful. But beyond Korea, Catholicism is on the rise in various other countries. Even where it is most persecuted, like in China.

The estimates of the number of Christians there, Catholic and not, varies from a minimum of 16 million to a maximum of 200. Rodney Stark, one of the scholars most qualified in this area, identifies 70 million as the most realistic figure. Twice as many women convert as do men. And the conversions are more frequent in the cities, above all among the emerging and more prosperous classes. Those who visit the Chinese universities are surprised by the atmosphere there, more palpably "Christian" than in many Western universities.

Not to mention Africa. South of the Sahara, over the past century, Catholics have gone from less than 2 million to 130 million, with a missionary impetus unprecedented in the two thousand years of the Church's life. The most surprising character of this expansion is that it originated in Europe precisely when the Church there was gasping under the pressure of a culture and of powers hostile to Christianity.

But the surprises don't stop there. In the Unites States, the Catholic Church has stood up better than the historical Protestant Churches to the advance of secularization precisely where it has refused to align itself with the dominant cultures and ways of life. And today it appears much more active in the public arena, not only because of the new "affirmative" bishops who are leading it, but also because of the presence among its faithful of increasingly more numerous ranks of immigrants from Latin America. For Benedict XVI, the Church in the United States is the proof that the extinguishing of the faith is not the inevitable fate of the West.

In short, the metamorphosis underway in Catholicism worldwide is such that, if one wished to do a classroom exercise, the candidate for pope who most corresponds to it today is without a doubt Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, multilingual, the former archbishop of Québec, which is one of the most secularized regions of the planet, a talented theologian of the Ratzingerian school, now the prefect of the Vatican Congregation that selects new bishops, and above all for many years a missionary in Latin America. In a Church that has its most promising "market" not in Europe but in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and even in the United States, the signs are pointing to a single candidate: Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet.

(Source: Sandro Magister in "L'Espresso")

maandag 11 juni 2012

Vatileaks scandal could weaken chances of Italian pope

Intrigue at the Vatican could weaken the chances of the next pope being an Italian, observers said, as memos leaked from the Holy See's corridors of power lift the lid on tensions between cardinals. While revealing deep discord within the Vatican administration, the "Vatileaks" scandal has also shown Pope Benedict XVI's concern with the day-to-day running of the Church despite the 85-year-old's physical frailty. That has not stopped rumours about a possible successor, however.

A quarter of the cardinals that can elect a new pope are Italian and the general view before the scandal broke was that they would help elect one of their own, reverting to a centuries-long tradition of Italian popes. The last non-Italian pope before the German Benedict and his Polish predecessor John Paul II was Adrian VI, who died in 1523.

But that logic is looking increasingly improbable as the scandal has created an impression that the Roman Curia is dominated by Italians more concerned with their ambitions than the greater good of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. "The side effect of Vatileaks is that it has seriously damaged the prospects for an Italian candidature to the papacy," Marco Politi, a Vatican expert who writes for Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, told AFP. "Many cardinals and bishops abroad see the incident as an unpleasant Italian affair although it really affects the whole Church," he said, adding: "A lot will depend on whether Benedict XVI can get a firm handle on the situation."

Leaks of confidential memos -- many of them published in a book called "Your Holiness" by Italian investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi -- have thrown into question the role of Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.

The scandal led to the arrest last month of the pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, as the alleged source of the leaks and has brought public criticism of the increasingly powerful Bertone's leadership from senior Italian clergy.

Vatican watcher Sandro Magister said: "The Roman Curia (the central administration of the Catholic Church) has never had a good image. Clergy in other parts of the world see it as "a centre of power that creates problems instead of helping. They now find confirmation of this," he said. The Italian cardinals are "no single bloc," he said, adding that no one candidate among them had emerged as a "convincing" possible successor.

Even the rising star of the hitherto most favoured Italian candidate, the 70-year-old Archbishop of Milan Cardinal Angelo Scola, has been waning. Scola who has earned plaudits for his dynamism and international initiatives but does not rate highly for his pastoral qualities "has been affected indirectly" by disputes between other Italian cardinals, Magister said. The expert dismissed as improbable Scola's attempts to distance himself from the influential Catholic movement "Communion and Liberation" which he helped promote but which is now being criticised for its clout in Italian politics.

While papal elections tend to favour "insiders" such as Benedict himself, who headed up the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 24 years, there is now increased interest in possible "outsider" candidates.

One name frequently cited in Vatican circles is that of Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, a respected theologian who heads up the world's bishops. Ouellet speaks several languages and is seen as a "modern conservative" as well as having clout in Latin America -- the world's most Catholic continent.

A similar candidate could be the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, who at 62 is still relatively young for the Catholic hierarchy and whose rhetoric is seen as more in tune with the modern world than that of other prelates

Brazil's Joao Braz de Aviz, 64, who is in charge of religious orders at the Vatican, is also respected for his openness and his pastoral qualities.

Ghanian cardinal Peter Turkson, 63, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Honduran cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, 69, who leads Caritas International, are also sometimes mentioned but are seen as too progressive.

Conclaves -- the meetings of cardinals to elect a new pope -- can of course always have unexpected results. The most famous example? Karol Wojtyla in 1978.

Source: AFP