The surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI as head of the Catholic Church on Feb. 11 of this year has left many people curious as to who the next pope will be, and the process of how they are elected. Here is my prediction, along with some details on the process itself.
For starters, popes are elected by a conclave, which is a meeting of the College of Cardinals – the body of all cardinals within the church. There isn’t much for “nominations,” but speculation on who will be elected Bishop of Rome is made based on papability, or the credentials of a cardinal in relation to being elected pope.
There are currently 25 papable cardinals from all levels of cardinal seniority, all positions within the church and from around the world. Although, this list can easily be narrowed down based on previous voting of papal conclaves. In the past two centuries, all elected popes have come from within Europe. Unless this conclave is much more progressive than the last (in 2005 with the death of Pope John Paul II), it is unlikely we will see a non-European or non-Caucasian pope for this election. The Catholic Church hasn’t changed many policies within its borders and has faced many controversies. The assumption that the next pope will come from within Europe is a safe one. This narrows the candidates down to 11 – they are mostly from Italy, where the Vatican state is located.
There is also seniority and experience to consider. There are three levels of cardinalship: deacon, priest, and bishop. In the last two centuries, elected popes have held, at least, cardinal-priesthood. This shortens the list down to eight likely candidates.
We must also look at priorities of papability, such as age and physical/mental ability. As Pope Benedict XVI resigned because he wasn’t able to handle the role of leader anymore, another resignation is not something cardinals want to see, as the pope title is often passed on by death. In recent years, with advancements in medical science, and the fact that heads of large bodies and organizations have superb health care, life expectancy among leaders is up, though quality and ability not so much. In 1970 under Pope Paul VI, the church even enacted a rule that no cardinal over the age of 80 could vote for the pope.
This leads the college to look for a young candidate that can handle the strains of the job, and will be withered by it, dying with it before they can lose their grips on life. Assuming anyone over the age of 70 will be seen as too old, this narrows us down to six candidates.
Finally, we look at political leaning, which, within any organization, is very fine-tuned, detailed, and hard to analyze from a generalized perspective. Of the 117 cardinals that can vote, the majority of them are over the age of 70 and are right leaning. We can expect the next pope to be the same. This leaves two candidates: Angelo Bagnasco of Italy and Antonio Cañizares Llovera of Spain. The last point of order, and papability indicator, is ethnicity and appropriateness.
As the church is rooted in Italian culture, history, and language, I predict that Angelo Bagnasco, being young, conservative, and Italian, will be the next pope.