Vatican City

Two front-runners emerge as pope candidates

Cardinals of Milan and San Paolo both far from reaching quorum

Two front-runners emerge as pope candidates

Vatican City, March 11 - With 48 hours before the cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel, the start of the conclave looks increasingly like a run-off between two candidates. Cardinal of Milan, Angelo Scola, and the Cardinal of San Paolo, Odilo Pedro Scherer are the two vying contenders reportedly starting off with a substantial "packet of votes". However, nearly half of the 115 voting cardinals are still undecided and have not expressed a preference, say reports. For this reason, the game for the election of Benedict XVI's successor has yet to take shape. Many say this, especially cardinals who in private conversations have spoken of a situation of "great uncertainty" in recent hours, and have expressed more than one worry about division in the heart of the College of Cardinals, and about a stalemate that could elude any name that coalesces the necessary consensus. Scola, age 71, having guided Venice and Milan - two dioceses from which five popes have emerged in the last century - is the strongest among Italian contenders, although his support comes mostly from a heterogeneous international group (Nothern Europeans, North and South Americans, and a few Italians) with a goal of electing a pope who can reform the Roman Curia, which is currently undergoing a number of actions on the part of the pre-conclave general congregations. Scherer, age 63, head of the most populous diocese in the world, is the candidate for those who are more closely tied to current Roman Curia and hopes for greater continuity. His strong card is supporter Giovanni Battista Re, the bishops' ex-prefect with whom Scherer worked for years in Rome. Scherer is also tied to the Roman Curia by his seat on the supervisory board of the Vatican Bank (IOR). Uncertainty as how things will play out, and how open the possible outcome is, is underlined by the fact that votes backing Scola number less than 40, and votes backing Scherer barely reach 30, far from the quorum of 77 necessary for election, or two-thirds of the 115-member electorate. One will see at the first ballot on Tuesday afternoon, if one of the two has catalyzed the 45 or so votes necessary for moving forward. If such a prospect does not materialize, more than one candidate could pick up the baton in the name of his consolidated pastoral experience - like the French Canadian Marc Ouellet, the Hungarian Peter Erdo, or even the Americans Timothy Dolan or Sean O'Malley. In the background, there are true outsider figures, like the young Philippine Luis Antonio Tagle or the Mexican Francisco Robles Ortega. An altogether different matter is the possible "ticket" matching 'papabile', or a papal contenders, like Scola and Scherer, with names that would flank them as foreign secretary - the post that wields the levers of Vatican power. For this post, names circulating for days include the Argentinian Leonardo Sandri and the Italian Mauro Piacenza. Negotiations, in any case, are completely open. The cardinals have dedicated Sunday - apart from masses in the Roman churches they lead - to confidential talks and meetings that will continue Monday, the eve of the conclave. For many, the need expressed in the general congregation is to find a figure able to turn the Roman Curia around, to carry out much desired reform with collegiality, an inheritance never implemented by the Council. Widespread among the cardinals are fatigue, unease, and suffering from scandals that have marked that recent years - like Vatileaks, the dossier of which was drawn up by three detective-cardinals, Julian Herranz, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi, and which hangs, a true sword of Damocles, over this conclave. Can a name capable of truly cleaning house emerge from these conditions - a task before which Ratzinger himself surrendered? At this point, one will only know after the white smoke rises above the Vatican. Photo: Cardinal of Milan, Angelo Scola

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