It might not be a form of politics that the Westminster village is familiar with, but the papal succession is nevertheless pure politics.
There are factions, rebels, personality clashes and fickle electors a plenty. Behind closed doors debates rage about how to maximise reach in new markets like Africa and Asia, turn back the opposition in these markets (that would be Islam) and how to rebuild a declining base in Europe. The economy and global austerity could even influence the selectorate of cardinals.
At this early stage, the choice seems likely to be forward looking. So it will be a new generation that takes the papal helm – “new generation” in this case meaning someone in their early 70s rather than knocking on 80. But don’t expect a liberal choice, the conclave of Cardinals that elects the pope has been packed with conservatives over the past years and doctrinal orthodoxy will be one of the entry level criteria.
So who are the runners and riders to succeed Benedict? Here are three to watch.
Cardinal Wilfred Fox Napier, Archbishop of Durban – the media candidate
At the time of the last succession in 2005 there was much talk of the potential for a black pope. Back then the Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze was the leading candidate, but the mood of the papal conclave was too conservative. Now 81, Arinze is seen as too old and Cardinal Wilfred Napier (72) is this year’s great black hope. From a media perspective, interest in an African pope would be intense and expect to see stories in the coming days heralding to the Catholic Obama.
Napier is known as passionate advocate of social justice, going so far as to oppose a papal visit to South Africa in 1988 as legitimising the apartheid government. But he is also the driest of dry on the Catholic touchstones of contraception and abortion. He is a resolute backer of church orthodoxy on the use of condoms in preventing AIDS
Napier’s main rival from Africa is likely to be Cardinal Peter Turkson, Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana. Turkson has similar beliefs, but controversially, authored an economic critique of the world financial system in 2011 that called for the establishment of a global public authority and a “central world bank”. All fine ideas, but unlikely to find favour with many governments or the important American market.
Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice – the Italian
Of course, there’s got to be an Italian. If the papal conclave wants to play it safe, Cardinal Scola (72) will be a hot favourite. The Italian lobby will already be pointing out there hasn’t been a local pope at the Vatican since the 1970s and Scola has a good biography. The son of a truck driver, he could use his formative experiences in post-war austerity Italy to lay claim to understanding the current concerns of working people around the world.
Scola’s scholastic interests in trying to find a way to avoid a “clash of civilisations” would position him well as a concilliatory sounding champion in the global competition for converts that is being contested with Islam. He also has impeccable organisational pedigree – three of Scola’s predecessors as Patriarch of Venice have gone on to take the big job in the past 100 years: Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul I.