Meet the next Pope
- Place your bets
- The next Pope will be either African or Asian
- There is no obvious African candidate
The next Pope will, therefore, be the “Asian Francis”
Meet Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the fast-emerging frontrunner to succeed Pope Francis.
First. The Italian grip on the Papacy has been getting weaker and weaker.
Pope John Paul broke the grip.
Pope Benedict weakened it further.
Pope Francis maintained the Italian influence. But broke the European grip. He showed that anyone from any part of the world could be Pope.
Second. Europe is no longer the powerhouse of Catholicism.
Africa and Asia are the new fast-growing area of the Catholic world.
Africa does not have a credible candidate.
Take a bow, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, former Archbishop of Manila in The Phillipines, who first learnt to recite the rosary when he was just three-years-old.
He is a former Archbishop of Manila in the The Philippines.
He has been responsible for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples since 2019.
He is a progressive. He has criticized Catholic LGBT opponents.
He was a guest at the recent Lambeth Conference, where he offered a liberal message, asking whether Christians in the diaspora “still feel like journeyers, or temporary settlers, or guests?” Churches, he said, must be hospitable to all, because “ethnic and cultural issues ruin the spiritual home”, and “populist” attitudes were threatening the proper meaning of the word “people”. He added: “We can be so established in our ways and culture that we start behaving like owners of lands, peoples, and ideas.”
He has just been named by Pope Francis as special envoy for the forthcoming Asian Bishops’ Conference in Thailand. He will preside over the closing Mass.
Yet another indication of the faith Pope Francis has placed in him.
Also in the running are the Hungarian prelate, Cardinal Péter Erdő, and the Italian prelate, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi.
But they are seen as too European. They don’t have the worldwide appeal that Tagle has.
Other candidates to succeed the Pope could include the Dutch conservative, Cardinal Wim Eijk, as well as compromise candidate, Cardinal Mario Grech from Malta. Also in the running are liberal Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (a man who once said same-sex blessings “will not be denied”); and another Italian, the conservative Cardinal Angelo Scola (a man who narrowly missed out last time, but who may also be perceived to be unable to reach out to a global Catholic audience).
Meanwhile, there is the outside chance of an African pontiff, given that Cardinal Peter Turkson and Cardinal Robert Sarah represent – like Tagle – the changing face of the Church, as well as the possibility of an American pope, or even a British pontiff.
But alongside Erdő and Zuppi, Tagle is surely the one to watch, a progressive continuity candidate, who points – unlike Zuppi – to the Church’s changing demographics. Francis has again demonstrated faith in the Filipino, who will become a visible leader of the Church as he attends the conference in Thailand. As Pope Francis set the precedent for a non-European pope, but as the College of Cardinals is perhaps not yet ready to elect an African or an American, it is the Filipino who could be in pole position, exemplifying the changing face of the Church as it pivots towards the Global South.
Meanwhile, a College of Cardinals more reflective of Francis’s positions is more likely perhaps to back a continuity candidate and one who, like them, reflects the increasing diversity of the Church hierarchy and wider membership.
Cardinals from around the world have just gathered at the Vatican for a surprisingly-timed consistory where 20 prelates joined the College of Cardinals, with sixteen under 80 and qualified to select the next pontiff.
Aside from a major legacy-building exercise by Pope Francis (83 of the 132 cardinal electors have been chosen by him) – perhaps ensuring a successor in his image – this was the first time many cardinals got to meet in person, offering the chance to sound out would-be successors.
The Pope, meanwhile, has done little to put rumours of resignation to bed – following perhaps the precedent set by Benedict XVI – recently saying that popes who resign are humble.