VATICAN CITY—Cardinals gathered for their final day of talks on Monday before the conclave to elect the next Pope, amid debate over whether the Catholic Church needs more of a manager Pope to clean up the Vatican or a pastoral Pope who can inspire the faithful at a time of crisis.
Several cardinals were signed up to speak at the closed-door morning session, an indication that the red-capped prelates still have plenty to discuss before sequestering themselves on Tuesday afternoon in the Sistine Chapel for the first vote.
There’s no clear front-runner for a job most cardinals say they would never want, but a handful of names are circulating as top candidates to lead the 1.2-billion-strong Church at a critical time in its history.
Cardinal Angelo Scola has serious management credentials, running the archdiocese of Milan—Italy’s largest and most important—and before that Venice, both of which have produced several Popes in the past.
He’s affable and Italian, but not from the Italian-centric Vatican bureaucracy. That makes him attractive perhaps to those seeking reform of the nerve center of the Church, which was exposed as corrupt and full of petty turf battles by the leaks of papal documents last year.
Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer seems to be favored by the Curia, or bureaucracy. Scherer has a solid handle on the Vatican’s finances, sitting on the governing commission of the scandal-marred Vatican bank.
As a non-Italian, the archbishop of Sao Paolo would be expected to name an Italian insider 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, Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean O’Malley of Boston. Neither has Vatican experience.
If the leading names fail to reach the 77 votes required for victory, 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 is the second-youngest cardinal voting. 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.
Tuesday begins with the cardinals checking into the Vatican’s Domus Sanctae Martae, a modern, industrial-feel hotel on the edge of the Vatican gardens.
Tuesday morning, the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, leads the celebration of the “Pro eligendo Pontifice” Mass—the Mass for the election of a Pope—inside St. Peter’s Basilica, joined by the 115 cardinals who will vote.
They break for lunch and return for the 4:30 p.m. procession into the Sistine Chapel, chanting the Litany of Saints, the hypnotic Gregorian chant imploring the intercession of the saints to help guide the voting. They then take their oath of secrecy, listen to a meditation by elderly Maltese Cardinal Prosper Grech, and cast the first ballots.