VATICAN CITY — Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel today to elect the next pope amid more upheaval and uncertainty than the Catholic Church has seen in decades: There’s no front-runner, no indication how long voting will last and no sense that a single man has what it takes to fix the church’s many problems.
The buzz in the papal stakes swirled around Cardinal Angelo Scola, an Italian seen as favored by cardinals hoping to shake up the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, a favorite of Vatican-based insiders intent on preserving the status quo.
Scola is affable and Italian, but not from the Italian-centric Vatican bureaucracy called the Curia.
That gives him clout with those seeking to reform the nerve center of the Catholic Church that has been discredited by revelations of leaks and complaints from cardinals in the field that Rome is inefficient and unresponsive to their needs.
Scherer seems to be favored by Latin Americans and the Curia.
The Brazilian has a solid handle on the Vatican’s finances, sitting on the governing commission of the Vatican bank, the Institute for Religious Works, as well as the Holy See’s main budget committee.
As a non-Italian, the archbishop of Sao Paolo would be expected to name an Italian as secretary of state — the Vatican No. 2 who runs day-to-day affairs at the Holy See — another plus for Vatican-based cardinals who would want one of their own running the shop.
The pastoral camp seems to be focusing on two Americans, New York archbishop Timothy Dolan and Boston archbishop O’Malley.
Neither has Vatican experience.
Dolan has admitted his Italian isn’t strong — seen as a handicap for a job in which the lingua franca of day-to-day work is Italian.
Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet is well-known and well-respected by many cardinals, stemming from his job at the important Vatican office that vets bishop appointments; less well known is that Ouellet has a lovely voice and is known to belt out French folk songs on occasion.
If the leading names fail to reach the 77 votes required for victory in the first few rounds of balloting, any number of surprise names could come to the fore as alternatives.
Those include Cardinal Luis Tagle, archbishop of Manila. He is young — at age 55 the second-youngest cardinal voting — and was only named a cardinal last November.
While his management skills haven’t been tested in Rome, Tagle — with a Chinese-born mother — is seen as the face of the church in Asia, where Catholicism is growing.
Whoever he is, the next pope will face a church in crisis.
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