Papal Picks

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Several people have been asking who I would like to see elected once Pope Benedict steps down.  This is always a delicate question, for numerous reasons.  First, it is quite clear that I do not, nor should I, get a vote.  Whatever opinions I hold are simply that: my  opinions and hopes.  Second, should someone “off my list” be elected, I would not want people to think that I “disapprove.”  Just like everyone else, I have various qualities that I would like to see in the new pope, but I also will pledge my undying fidelity and unceasing prayers to whoever occupies the Chair of St. Peter.  Third, if the last several elections have taught us anything it is that old adage rings true: “He who walks into a conclave a pope comes out a cardinal.”  In other words, these things are notoriously difficult to predict.

Nevertheless, because I am human and because I get all geeked out about these things, it should come as no surprise that I have “a list.”  Before we get to it, however, it is worth giving you (1) the criteria the media seems to be using for choosing contenders, (2) my sense of the criteria that the cardinals will actually use, and (3) the criteria I am using.

The media assumes that this election will go through a similar process as a school district might go through when selecting a superintendent.  First, those charged with the task put together a profile based on the character and needs of the district.  They then select candidates that fit that profile.  After meeting with the candidates and hearing their vision and implementation strategies, the school district makes a selection.  The media assumes that the cardinals will work in a similar fashion.  Thus, they have asked questions such as, “The cardinals will probably be looking for someone young.  They will be looking for someone who is multi-lingual.  They will be looking at geographic origin based on strong or emerging Catholic populations.”  From there, they offer a list of candidates who fit the bill.

The problem is, I sense strongly that the cardinals don’t do things this way.  I think that they look at men rather than abstract profiles.  Part of this is because the “pool” of candidates is so small to begin with, and the pool is essentially the same as those charged with making the decision.  (Yes, I know that it is possible that the cardinals select someone outside the electors, but we are trying to give a realistic assessment, and this simply won’t happen.)

Imagine that the hiring of a superintendent worked differently.  Rather than having an independent school board responsible for hiring the next leader of the district select from a nation pool of candidates, most of whom are not part of the organization, imagine that (1) the current principals at the buildings were responsible for making the decision, and (2) it was generally understood that the next superintendent would come from that same group: current building principals.  This electoral process would produce substantially different results.  Even in large districts, most of the principals, though not all, know each other or at least know of each other.  Thus, rather than putting together a profile, they would be looking at people that they know and asking themselves the question: can this person lead our district?  It’s not a great analogy, but I think it makes the point that by the nature of this process, the cardinals will generally be voting on people they know, and they will be voting for a candidate because they know him.  For this reason, I honestly believe that geography does not play as important a role as the media thinks it does.  I am not even convinced that language capabilities play that big of a role.

There is one “profile” area, however, that could influence the decision, and that is age.  It is entirely possible that that cardinals may be looking for a younger candidate this time, or at least that they would subconsciously eliminate substantially older candidates.  I still don’t think that this is a conscious deliberation on their part, but I do believe that Pope Benedict in resigning due to “old age and frailty” has all but guaranteed that the cardinals will at least be thinking about age come conclave time.

That being said, let’s turn to the criterion that I am using when selecting my list of “hopefuls.”  Again, let’s note here that my list is not a prediction, but rather a preference.  I am under no illusion that the cardinals will think anything remotely close to what I am offering.  With that said, my criteria is simple: I want a pope that will continue the liturgical vision of Pope Benedict the XVI.  It’s that simple.  Liturgy.  Everything else is secondary.

Before people get all bent our of shape over this, let me explain.  There are two things to consider when looking at contemporary issues in the Church: is it a real need and can the pope have real influence?

There are lots of things that the Church needs right now.  Surely a revitalized and reverent liturgy is one of those thing, but it is just that: one.  For instance, we also need to maintain a strong stance against abortion.  We also have an increasing need for a defense of religious freedom. We need to hold fast to the infallible teachings that have been handed on down through the ages concerning ordination, marriage, and morality.  However, I am not convinced that either a strong or week pope in this regard will make a difference.  First off, he will be incapable of changing infallible teachings, so there is no danger there.  Yet even if the next pope is rock solid on something like abortion or religious freedom and speaks about these things at every opportunity, the media and national governments will continue to ignore him.  Quite frankly, I don’t think he has the influence that people think he does.  With regards to issues like abortion and religious freedom, what the Church needs is strong local bishops who can fight the political fights within their particular political systems.

A revitalization of Catholic identity seems to also be an important need at the moment.  And yet the best way to do that is through the liturgy.  Something happened in the years following the Novus ordo in which the Mass in many places became virtually indistinguishable from the Protestant services down the street.  Catholic identity is always sourced in our worship of God.  Lex orandi, lex credendi.

There are two facts about the liturgy that make is so compelling when looking towards a new pope.  First, this is very much something that he can control.  The example of Pope Benedict has been invaluable in this regard.  The papal liturgies have taken on a whole new life (or an “old” life I should say … one that has continuity with the liturgical patrimony of the Church).  The young priests and seminarians are watching him, and they are modeling him, and the liturgy is slowly changing from parish to parish.  If this trajectory were to continue, we could see substantially improved liturgies in virtually every parish in the next twenty years as the young priests step into the role of pastor.

Second, the liturgy is perhaps the area that needs so much help right now.  The manner in which it is celebrated in most parishes is quite distant from the thought of the Holy Father, the spirit of the rubrics, the history in which it should be grounded, and even the writings of Vatican II.  Gregorian Chant, the use of Latin, the use of the Mass Propers, the mode of communion reception, the role of the laity … and the issues go on.  There is so much work to be done, and yet the trajectory has been set by Pope Benedict XVI.  We need a pope who will continue this vision.

There is one issue concerning the liturgy that I feel is the most important for our time: orientation.  Pope Benedict has initiated this conversation by (1) speaking about the need to orient the priest and the people towards the Lord rather than towards each other, (2) instituting the Benedictine altar arrangement, with six candle sticks on the altar and a central crucifix, and (3) celebrating the Mass facing with the people in the Sistine Chapel.  Yet there is so much more to be done.  The time will come when the laity can once again face with the priest as we march, a pilgrim people on our way to Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  But in order to get there, we need someone who will continue the liturgical vision of Pope Benedict XVI.

With that, here is my list of those men that I think have a lot to offer to the future of the liturgy.


1.  Cardinal Raymond Burke
Cardinal Burke is currently the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, having previously served as Archbishop of St. Louis.  This is a man who has celebrated more extraordinary form Masses than I can count.  He has a solid understanding of both the extraordinary form and the ordinary for of the Roman Rite, as well as their relationship to one another.  To top it off, Cardinal Burke has the added advantage of being solid and outspoken on many of the other matters previous mentioned, particularly from the perspective of Canon Law.  In terms of “electability” he has the obvious disadvantage of being American, but on the other hand he has served in Rome for half a decade now, which helps.


2.  Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera

Cardinal Canizares is a Spanish cardinal and currently the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  He is often referred to as “Little Ratzinger.”  In addition to being an outspoken proponent of the extraordinary form, Cardinal Canizares has the following to say about the mode of reception:

“What does it mean to receive communion in the mouth? What does it mean to kneel before the Most Holy Sacrament? What does it mean to kneel during the consecration at Mass? It means adoration, it means recognizing the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist; it means respect and an attitude of faith of a man who prostrates before God because he knows that everything comes from Him, and we feel speechless, dumbfounded, before the wondrousness, his goodness, and his mercy. That is why it is not the same to place the hand, and to receive communion in any fashion, than doing it in a respectful way; it is not the same to receive communion kneeling or standing up, because all these signs indicate a profound meaning.”


3. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith
Cardinal Ranjith is the primate of Sri Lanka and the Archbishop of Colombo.  He previously served as the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  He has described the liturgical reforms inspired by the Second Vatican Council as “a mixed bag of results,” criticizing the “quasi total abandonment” of Latin and the “acceptance of all kinds of ‘novelties’ resulting from a secularizing and humanistic theological and liturgical mindset overtaking the West.”  He has also lamented the “banalization and obscuring of the mystical and sacred aspects of the liturgy in many areas of the Church in the name of a so-called [spirit of Vatican II].”  Regarding reception of communion, Cardinal Ranjith has said, “I think it is high time to…abandon the current practice that was not called for by Sacrosanctum Concilium, nor by Fathers [of Vatican II], but was only accepted after its illegitimate introduction in some countries.”


These are my top three.  However, there are several others with whom I would be quite content.  I think Cardinal Oullet of Canada shows great promise, and I would be more than happy with Cardinal Scola of Itay.  And yet, when it is all said and done, I keeping bringing myself back to a simple prayer for Cardinal Burke.

Well, I suppose in the end it is a good thing that I don’t get a vote.  I pray daily that the cardinals will keep their hearts open to the Holy Spirit during the conclave, and I pray too for the current and the new Holy Father.

More to explorer

Thought For the Day

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Saint of the Day Quote: Saint Jane Antide Thouret

  Remember to consider only Christ in the person of the poor.  Serve them always as you would serve Christ himself.  


  1. Is it wrong to pray for the following (in no particular order):

    1. Reverence. Someone whose masses, public and private, are reverent, traditional and do not attract attention to the celebrant. Latin, whether novus ordo or tridentine, and ad orientam. Plain chant and polyphany.

    2. A circle of quiet. A traditionalist priest of my acquaintance says this, “the pope shouldn’t say too much”. There is a large body of teaching of which people need to be reminded. Innovative teaching and practice (e.g. the ‘Luminous Mysteries’) not so much.

    3. Stillness. As Christopher Ferrara says, “not a mobilist guru, but firmly rooted on the chair of Peter”. You do not need to travel everywhere, and for a production like World Youth Day, you need to ensure that the consecrated hosts are carefully protected.

    4. A sense that personnel is policy. Do you have an architecture in place that produces faithful bishops who produce vocations, or do you get Howard Hubbard over and over again?

    5. No sinecures. What does the Vatican diplomatic service do other than spin its wheels? How does the Church benefit from Cdl. Martino running off at the mouth? What is the purpose of agitating on behalf of international agencies whose activities are of doubtful utility?

    6. No oecumenism. Have quiet discussions with schismatic bodies with valid holy orders but redepoly the manpower invested in this to more productive work. Local congregations can co-operate with protestant bodies on practical tasks without theological discussion or the involvement of the brass.

    7. No scandal. Please no one whose judgment on a disciplinary matters can be seriously questioned, and no one whose personal holiness can be questioned.

    8. Aplomb. John Paul I was reportedly seen weeping in the Vatican gardens during his month in office. The ability to delegate authority and check on it is most valued. ‘Tough-minded’ used to mean someone who did not mind making difficult choices. It is a quality that seems generally lacking in clerics.

    9. Rhetoric. Must encyclicals always be prolix and soporific?

    10. Remember your sergeants. The bishops who put the kibosh on female acolytes were made to look silly when we were all abruptly informed that it ‘enriched’ the liturgy, or some such.

  2. Every Pope since John XXIII has added his stone to the edification of ecumenical and interreligious relations. Unity among Christians and understanding and respect between faiths is the main condition for peace. I hope the next Pope continues the work of his predecessor.

  3. As Fr Zuhlsdorf constantly reminds us, “Save the Liturgy, Save the World”.

    There are no front-runners as in 1939, 1963 and 2005. At the same time there is no conservative/liberal polarization in the College which led to the election of compromise candidates in 1978.

    I think it is inconceivable that Benedict would have resigned without having a pretty good idea of who his successor will be.

  4. Thank you for sharing to us your opinion. I just hope that the one who will be elected to replace Pope Benedict XVI will be able to lead the church and his people the best way he can. Thanks for sharing this and may God bless you. 🙂

  5. Joe,

    The phrase I used is equivalent to your. I said that the Pope celebrated Mass facing “with the people.” This is correct. He did not celebrate it “facing the people” but rather in the same direction as the people. I often like to use the phrase “with the people” because it dismisses the silly notion that the priest “turns his back on the people.” This was never the case. In an ad orientem posture, the priest and the people face the Lord together, like a pilgrim people headed towards Christ, led by his representative, the priest.

    I am sorry if it caused confusion, and perhaps I should have clarified it. But I stand by the phrase, and I still think it useful for those who still view the orientation as the priest turning his back on the people.

    Thanks for reading!

    – Jake

  6. Every Pope since John XXIII has added his stone to the edification of ecumenical and interreligious relations. Unity among Christians and understanding and respect between faiths is the main condition for peace. I hope the next Pope continues the work of his predecessor.

    I would refer you to Ferrara and to articles in The Latin Mass on the problems with oecumenism and the confusing and corrosive effect it has had. Local congregations co-operating on common projects (e.g. food banks) is not a problem. Things which confound people as to the importance of the Church and the sacraments are not fine. I am not sure you can say it has made a discernable difference in amending the sorry trajectory of occidental Anglicanism and Lutheranism. As for inter-religious dialogue, what’s the point? Let local bishops and the Latter-Day Saints co-operate with regard to common problems. What is the need to involve the Holy See except as an inspector?

  7. I am praying for Cardinal Burke. I have known and worked with him over the years on various diocesan projects and find him to be extraordinary in his abilities as priest, Bishop and Cardinal. We need a true defender of the faith. We need an American Pope! He will not fear making the decisions that need(must) be made to educate Catholics once again. To confront the devisive issues facing our beleagured Church and all those who seek to destroy Her. He has great inner vision, empathy and sympathy for the poor as well as the ability to manage. He comes from a lowly background of the family farm which has kept him grounded and humble. Please God, let this Holy man be the Pope our Church needs so badly in these times if assult.

  8. If Burke is elected, expect a mass exodus of liberals. I can see some bishops retiring early. And I shall party for at least a week.

  9. “I think it is inconceivable that Benedict would have resigned without having a pretty good idea of who his successor will be.”

    Really? Maybe I’m projecting or something, but I wouldn’t think that he made his decision with any thought to his successor. It’s like I’ve heard some people talking about Benedict remaining the power behind the scenes – if he were interested in power, he could remain in the Chair of Peter. The way I figure it, every pope knows that the cardinals could be choosing a new pope next week. Benedict’s in an unusual position in that he knows they will, but it’s something that he must have had in mind every time he elevates cardinals.

  10. When elected, Benedict knew that his papacy would not be a long one. The most he could do was to set the tone, start the ball rolling as it were, and leave it to his successors to complete the work. It is clear that he thinks the Council needs to be reinterpreted – he has said so recently – but as someone who was intimately involved with it as a peritus, he could not himself do it, even if he had the strength (apart from anything else, his own views have changed over the last half-century). To be still around when his successor is chosen is a further guarantee that his programme will be continued.

  11. Nolan (second comment) – from your mouth to God’s ear!!

    When Pope John Paul II died, the first name that entered my heart was Joseph Ratzinger. When I heard of Pope Benedict’s resignation, the name that came immediately was Raymond Burke. I pray this wasn’t wishful thinking. As the people of Poland were given a Polish Pope to help them rise up and push back against communism, maybe God will give the American faithful an American Pope to help us push back against the “culture of death” that is being exported all over the world. Consequently, the counter-revolution must begin with us.

  12. Carmen,

    Alas, Chaput is not a cardinal I’m afraid. Of couse, strictly speaking he “could” be elected, but the cardinals have not selected outside of the electorate in centuries. Rigali is a cardinal, though, while we’re naming quality Americans.



  13. I was at the London Oratory on St Philip’s Day last year when Cardinal Burke celebrated Solemn Mass and preached. Inspiring.

  14. I like reading all you good faithful Catholics! What a joy!
    Of Course Cardinal Burke! I think he is a holy man like B16, and strong mentally and strong in his purpose of serving and loving God.

    Yes -the importance of the liturgy cannot be overstated.

    ” a mass exodus of liberals.” -it would be a great clarification if that happened and they made it formal or official instead of being half-in/half-out as they are now.

    Cardinal Burke gave me the nicest smile one day when we passed on the hillside path at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in LaCrosse.

    I think B16 is very comfortable with Holy Spirit handling succession to Peter–

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