The papal race is about to start

Finally, a month after the resignation of Benedict XVI, the Conclave will begin tomorrow

by Tim Hedges on 11 March 2013 18:37

The Conclave will begin tomorrow, March 12th, a month after the resignation of Benedict XVI. Until now the assembled cardinals have been roaming and plotting freely (Conclave means locked in, but until it starts they can do as they please). The start of the Conclave will also mean little in the way of reliable rumour emerging. Still, unreliable rumour is just as much fun.

The current story is that the cardinals have divided into two camps: the Italians, who favour an Italian pope, and a group led by the Americans who favour one from North or South America, Africa or the Far East (anywhere but Europe). It is not just Italians who favour an Italian pope. Some say that the Vatican is in such a mess with the various scandals that it would take an Italian to understand it and sort it out.

Two mysteries have marked out these pre-Conclave talks. First is the strange story of the posters. On March 1st, posters bearing a picture of Cardinal Turkson, the front-runner, appeared at various sites in Rome including, provocatively, outside the basilicas of St John Lateran and S. Maria Maggiore. They were quickly covered up. The posters bore the message ‘In Conclave vote for Cardinal Turkson’.

It is possible that some naive supporters of the Ghanaian candidate felt this might assist him, but equally likely that it was an attempt to discredit him. Of course the latter is more likely to be effective. Discrediting the favourite is an age-old Vatican pastime. There is an old saying that he who enters the Conclave as Pope leaves it as a cardinal.

The second curious matter is the late arrival of Cardinal Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City. Modern communications are such that he could quite easily have dropped everything and been in Rome three weeks before he in fact arrived. Why was he so late?

There could of course be any number of reasons but in the febrile atmosphere of the Holy See some people believe it was tactical. The story going round is that the Italians are ready and wanted an early Conclave and an early vote, believing they can get their man (probably Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan) in quickly.  The American-led group felt themselves a little behind and so needed time to talk over the doubters.

The betting has turned towards Angelo Scola, on slightly shorter odds than previous favourite Peter Turkson. You can also bet on the name the future pope will take, the favourites being Peter and Pius.

The Corriere della Sera published the forecasts of eight seasoned Vatican watchers. Angelo Scola featured highly, but so did Odilo Pedro Scherer of Sao Paolo. Interestingly none favoured Peter Turkson.

Me? If I were a betting man I’d take the 20/1 offered on Leonardo Sandri of Buenos Aires and the 12/1 on him calling himself Benedict XVII. But at least a dozen cardinals are papabili. Wait for the white smoke is my advice. 

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