Who will be the next pope?

Religion, spirituality, and sacrilege.
April 1 2005 6:00 PM

Papal Chase

Will the next pope be black, Hispanic, American, a Jew?

(Continued from Page 3)

Christoph Schönborn
Country: Austria
Age: 60
Assets: Intellectual heavyweight. European Christianity could use some excitement.
Liabilities: Europe had its chance.

This cardinal is also a count! A respected theologian, Schönborn was chosen by Pope John Paul II to serve as the general editor of the revised Catholic catechism. David Gibson calls Schönborn "a cultured Austrian who is conservative but, true to his Mittleeuropean roots, can be a bridge between East and West. Maybe a little too close to a Slavic pope, and maybe a little too young still."

His big problem is his age.

Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino
Country: Cuba
Age: 68
Assets: Communist country. Hispanic.
Liabilities: Communism no longer a problem.

Picking a pope from a Communist country worked well last time, so why not try again? Alamino has the advantages of being a bastion of faith in a godless land and being Hispanic.

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Godfried Danneels
Country: Belgium
Age: 72
Assets: Witty.
Liabilities: Too liberal.

On the off chance that the cardinals want to go with a liberal, Danneels may be the man. "When the bishops and cardinals gather, Danneels is often the center of attention, appreciated for his wit and intellect," says Greg Tobin, author of Selecting the Pope. Weaknesses: As a liberal from Belgium, he might be viewed as the Michael Dukakis of the papal race.

Bear in mind, the cardinals traditionally abjure front-runners even more than Democratic Party primary voters do, so there's a good chance it won't be any of the above. An old Italian saying goes, "He who enters the conclave a pope comes out a Cardinal."

And there is, finally, what might be called "The God Factor." Though it's tempting (and fun) to view the papal selection like the Iowa caucuses—all about voting blocks, spin, and positioning—this is still, on some level, a highly personal and spiritual decision. There may be a cardinal who is all wrong for the political reasons listed above but who's viewed by his peers as a truly holy individual. Many people believe the Holy Spirit will be guiding the cardinals' deliberations, and God may have his own views on this, Paddypower.com notwithstanding.

Clarification, April 4: When we republished this article on April 1, two years after it originally was written, we neglected to research whether the number of cardinals involved in the election process might have changed. It had. In 2003, the number was evidently 134; at this point, roughly 117 cardinals will be eligible to vote. Return to the sentence.

Steven Waldman is editor in chief ofBeliefnet, the leading multifaith spirituality and religion Web site.