The commentators may have their theories; the analysts may have their scenarios. But according to Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, there is one thing the papal election speculators don’t take into account, and that is who will ultimately decide the next pope.
“The Holy Spirit is in charge of the church. It’s this confidence we have in the Spirit to guide and direct the church that’s going to guide and direct these cardinals in the conclave,” the archbishop told your Catholic Herald Feb. 11. “And it’s going to guide and direct whoever the successor of Benedict XVI is going to be.”
While conclave observers may look at numbers of cardinals from particular parts of the world – 11 U.S. cardinals are eligible to vote, the second largest group after the Italians – Archbishop Listecki recalled 1978.
“The largest block was the Italians when (Cardinal Karol) Wojtyla was elected pope,” he said.
Despite predictions about the next pope’s country of origin or background in church affairs, according to Archbishop Listecki, the electors will be looking for one thing.
“When those cardinals go into the conclave, their commitment is to serve Christ and his church. They’re looking to elect the best person that they believe will lead the church in the next decades,” he said. “So when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected, I don’t believe at all that they went in there saying, ‘I want an interim pope.’ They went in there to elect the best person possible. I think that is what the cardinals will be doing this time: going in to elect the best person possible.”
That person, Archbishop Listecki said, has to be knowledgeable about the pluralism of the world and have a sense of the “mushrooming of Christianity in Africa, Asia and Latin America.”
He continued, “Those characteristics come by way of a person who knows and serves the church internationally. Usually, that’s a mark of most cardinals; they, as princes of the church, have been involved, literally, with the church throughout the world.”
Archbishop Listecki said the cardinal chosen will need to understand the diversity of the church and have a “strong grounding in the church’s teaching.”
“That’s going to be important for the future pope to continue on the legacy of defending and promoting the faith, therefore it has to be a person who is well grounded in the truths of the church, and to be able to espouse that truth,” he said.
Archbishop Listecki anticipates that the next pope can expect to be doing a lot of international travel.
“I just think the trend that has been established by John Paul II, and even before him by Pau VI, will continue. The world will demand the pope’s presence in various areas,” he said. “That will be a characteristic – to have a willingness to be out in the world and to serve as the pastor of the world.”
Asked if there could be a “surprise” in who is elected pope, Archbishop Listecki again noted the role of the Holy Spirit in making that choice.
“The surprise comes in the sense that the Holy Spirit has chosen this individual. If it is a well known individual, someone people have discussed, that’s a surprise in the sense that the mantle of leadership has rested upon somebody the individuals have clearly seen,” he said. “And it shouldn’t be a surprise if it is somebody that is not known to many because this is an individual obviously whose characteristics and talents will be discovered in and through his leadership.”
The archbishop did not rule out any of the 117 electors – even an American — as the next pope.
“You might speculate that it is harder or more difficult for an American to be selected to that office, but you can never say never. You just can’t, because you’re a believer in the Holy Spirit would hold that out for us.”
He noted that three cardinals have ties to the state: Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, a native of Richland Center, a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse and Archbishop Listecki’s predecessor as bishop of La Crosse; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, his predecessor as archbishop of Milwaukee; and Cardinal James M. Harvey, a Milwaukee native and a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“Wisconsin will be well represented in the conclave,” the archbishop said.