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The Perfect Next Pope: A Secret Guide From Anonymous Cardinals

The Lateran Throne Room. Tapestries of St. Peter and St. Paul
The Lateran Throne Room. Tapestries of St. Peter and St. Paul
Andrea Tornielli

VATICAN CITY - One of the cardinals getting ready to enter the upcoming conclave knows that he himself is not papabile -- that is, his is not one of the names being considered as a possible next pope.

Perhaps for this reason he has taken the time to lay out to La Stampa, in a letter written with an old-fashioned silver fountain pen, what he believes is the ideal profile for the successor to Pope Benedict XVI. Other cardinals have spoken to us in confidence, and a few have even spoken in public, about the man they will be seeking when the conclave begins later this month. While an ideal picture begins to come into focus, so too does the challenge of finding one man to meet all the requirements.

"What we want in a new pope is someone who isn’t too old and has good physical stamina, which is what Benedict XVI indicated to us in his own statement of resignation," wrote the anonymous Cardinal. "That he is not too young has been repeated by many of my fellow cardinals so that we avoid another reign of 30 years. (a reference to John Paul II's 27-year reign) That we need a pontiff able to reform the Curia (Vatican government) is something many think; that the faithful expect a shepherd pope who is able to bring forth a positive message is something we all know.

This time, age and physical strength are likely to weigh in. Just like they were important in the second conclave in 1978 after the sudden death of Pope John Paul I, when the cardinals chose a 58-year-old cardinal as his successor: Karol Wojtyla. As he announced that he would be stepping down, Benedict XVI said: “In today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary.”

Even with the possibility that resignation, after Benedict set a new precedent, could pave the way for a very young successor, most cardinals say they believe the most likely successor is someone “around 65-70 years-old.”

Sixty-five was the age that Pope Paul VI was elected, a pope who worked for decades inside the offices of the Secretariat of State and knew the Roman Curia inside-out. Knowledge of curial mechanisms is requested of the new Pontifex Maximus, especially because several cardinals have said that a priority of the next pope will be to reform the Church's central governance, a reshaping of the Secretariat of State, as well as improving "collegiality" between the world's bishops and the offices of the Vatican.

Charismatic technocrat?

The next pope should therefore have, according to the parameters outlined by the cardinals, both the qualities required to reform and the determination to actually do so that Pius X showed at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the case that the man chosen does not have the “gift of government”, he should be immediately assisted by the Secretary of State. For this reason, many consider imperative that the new successor should not keep current curial employees on until their current terms end in five years, but ask that a new team could be formed within a few months.

High on the wish list is that the new pope must be a spiritual man, a true shepherd. A pope who is able to communicate to the world, announcing in a positive way and proactive about the gospel’s message, who searches to overcome boundaries and fences, as John XXIII “the Good Pope” did with a smile. The cardinals will look for a shepherd rather than a head of state, and it is for this reason that -- despite security concerns -- several would welcome a reduction of the bodyguards who surround the pope, as well as a greater simplicity in the rites he celebrates.

This "sketch-up" envisages the ideal candidate has a healthy dose of charisma, a man capable of expressing the face of a communicative Church, like John Paul II knew how to do. One who is able to have the voice of the papacy heard at an international level on the great issues of peace, the clashes and crossings of civilization, as well as with the Catholic Church’s relationship with other religions - exactly the same as Wojtyla did.

It’s difficult to imagine who could aspire to take up the legacy of Benedict XVI, whose fundamental teaching ran so deep, whose ability to speak off-the-cuff with such depth and eloquence. The successor, whoever he is, will continue to draw inspiration from him. If he needs advice, that part will be easy -- Ratzinger will be his new neighbor.

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photo of ​Milei holding up his fist in front of supporters

Milei holds up his fist in front of supporters on Sunday

Maximiliano Ramos/ZUMA
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