White smoke from the Vatican this afternoon may signal that the new Pope is Cardinal Angelo Scola. But the longer the papal conclave goes on, the more likely it becomes that St Peter’s next successor will be a global figure – which probably means either a North or Latin American, rather than an African or Asian.
That, at least, is the prevailing consensus of the Vaticanisti this morning. And it makes sense. Scola, probably the least talked about of the heavy favourites, is the obvious choice to follow Pope Benedict: a theologian of similarly high standing (though his writings are less accessible to lay readers), he has grown in stature in the last few years, and is widely respected among – and familiar to – the Church hierarchy. He is Italian. He is, moreover, thought to have enough administrative experience, having been Patriarch of Venice and Archbishop of Milan.
The idea also is that a longer Conclave means that the American bloc – which is now thought to contain both Latin and North American Cardinals, together supposedly determined to reform the scandal-prone Curia – may be able to cobble together enough support for their preferred candidate. But nobody is sure who that is. It could be a north American (perhaps Cardinal Dolan, my initial tip or a Brazilian, either Cardinal Scherer or Cardinal João Braz de Aviz). According to this line of argument, the longer the process takes, the further from Rome the new Vicar of Christ will have travelled. A really long Conclave thus would increase the chances of a developing world figure, like the Filipino Cardinal Tagle.
At the same time, there is an extent to which the experts are modelling their theories on what happened in 2005. The dynamics of this Conclave are very different. Eight years ago, Joseph Ratzinger was the obvious quick choice. His opponents in the College of Cardinals pushed, it is said, for the Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (who is in the Sistine Chapel again this week) but they fell short. Ratzinger had too much support within and without the Curia. Scola does not have quite the same sway.
It’s all too contradictory for confident assertions. Vatican insiders also say that the more curial-minded electors – many of whom are Italian – are keen for a world figure who will not interfere with their control of the Vatican, while foreign Archbishops want a Roman figure to shake things up in and around St Peter’s.
You could go mad trying to get your head around the manifold possibilities. Today, though, Scola is the name on everyone's lips.