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March 3 - March 16, 2013

What will the cardinals be looking for in the successor to Peter?

Memorabilia from papal conclaves are on display in the seminary library at the University of St. Mary of the Lake-Mundelein Seminary. In 1939, Cardinal George Mundelein stuffed his pockets with cards, trinkets and other souvenirs from the papal election before returning to Chicago. He was among the cardinal-electors who gathered in the Sistine Chapel to chose Pius XII. CNS photo by Raymond Cleaveland / Catholic New World

By Michelle Martin


When this issue of the Catholic New World went to press, Pope Benedict XVI was still in office as the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter.

When it arrived in your hands, all indications were that Pope Benedict would have left his office and headed to Castel Gandolfo at 8 p.m. Feb. 28 and the Sede Vacante (Vacant See) would have begun.

In many ways, explained Father Robert Barron, it will be like any Sede Vacante period, when the cardinals as a group take over the running of the Vatican but are prohibited from doing anything except the day-to-day management and responding to emergencies.

In other ways, it will be a bit different, as all the cardinals who can travel will already be there when the see officially becomes vacant, said Barron, rector of Mundelein Seminary, a Catholic New World columnist and frequent speaker and commenter on church matters.

“That will be followed by the general congregation, where the cardinals will discuss the state of the church. That will go on for we don’t know how long,” he said, before the cardinals move into Domus Sanctae Marthae (St. Martha’s Residence) and start the conclave with voting sessions in the Sistine Chapel.

The general rule is 15 days, to allow for cardinals to travel to the Vatican and for funeral rites. But there is no funeral, and the travelling will be done, so there is the possibility that the date of the conclave will be moved up by a few days. Pope Benedict in one of his last acts, allowed the cardinals to do just that.

“They can decide whatever they want,” Barron said. “They will have plenty of opportunities for informal discussions.”

He also expects the conclave to last no more than a few days. With 117 cardinal electors, the new pope will need 78 votes.

While Barron said he can’t read the minds of the cardinals, he knows what he would like to see in a new pope.

“First and foremost, I would like to see someone who is an evangelist. The pope is the most visible evangelist in the world, and he needs to be able to articulate why Jesus Christ matters in the world today,” he said. “I want a positive, smart, articulate, smiling face who can announce that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. A joyful, hopeful, holy person.”

The last two popes have spoken multiple languages and have been “world-class intellectuals.” That might not continue, although the pope will obviously be an intelligent man, he said.

Further down the priority list, the new pope will have to be someone who can get control of the Roman curia, Barron said.

Peter Casarella, professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University and director of the university’s Center for World Catholicism, said the cardinals might not know exactly who they are looking for until they talk about it, although he expects they will choose someone younger than the 78-yearold Joseph Ratzinger elected in 2005.

“The Holy Father said he was too weary, and he wants someone who is strong. And finding someone who can carry forward the legacy of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict will be very much on everyone’s mind,” Casarella said. “Obviously, they’re going to be looking for a good and holy man. They’re going to be talking to each other and hearing presentations on the state of the church. … The electors are not going to be playing the politics of global diversity.”

His colleague, Michael Budde, chair of DePaul’s Catholic studies department, said the cardinals don’t always do what’s expected of them.

“There can be surprises,” he said. “There can be concerns that arise in the days or weeks leading up to it. It holds an element of unpredictability to it. Sometimes they know where they don’t want to go.”