As cardinals from around the world meet Tuesday to begin selecting the next Pope, a leading Vatican watcher is cautioning that even veteran observers have no keen insight into who the next Pope will be or when a selection may emerge.
In an interview with Newsmax TV, Sean-Patrick Lovett, director of Vatican Radio’s English language programming, said that despite having observed four conclaves during his tenure, predicting the selection is difficult since the various cardinals have their own ideas and priorities.
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“I can tell you in terms of my own experience, there is absolutely no way to predict who the next Pope is going to be. Your guess really is as good as mine,” he said.
Despite recent speculation that an American may be named Pope, Lovett cautions that all talk of likely successors is driven by a process of exclusion rather than keen insight of the actual process.
“We’ve kind of played most of the field and they started excluding anyone who had any kind of record or baggage and then went around the different geopolitical areas. They then kind of closed in tighter on the circle and Americans have fallen within the circle,” Lovett said. “But really, it’s a game that journalists play and need to play because it’s fun and that’s what people expect from us. When they lock themselves in that room tomorrow afternoon, believe me, anything could happen.”
Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley’s name has also been mentioned frequently in the last few days, as has Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola. However, Lovett cautions that the way outside observers handicap the selection process is entirely different from the way the selection process is actually undertaken.
“Looking at it from the outside in, one tends to interpret things in the same way one could interpret an American election. But from the inside looking out, it’s a whole different dynamic,” he said. “We’re not looking at it in terms of a power struggle or anything else. We’re really looking at 115 men deciding what the needs of the church are in the world today and who is the person best able to respond to those needs, regardless of where he comes from.”
Scola has reportedly said he would reform the Curia and the Vatican and purge it of insiders. Lovett believes the reason they may take place is a desire of the church to be keenly aware of what’s going on not only in the Vatican, but the world in general.
“The consensus is that we need a Pope who’s able to look inward and outward and take care of his own garden as it were. (The new Pope needs) to put the Vatican in order and the governing body of the Vatican in order, but also look outward as well,” Lovett said. “You need a Pope who’s able to take care of things at home but someone also like a John Paul II figure who is able to go out into the world and meet people where they are.”
Lovett believes the next Pope will be challenged to speak in a way that reflects a rapidly changing and more complex world.
“Things have sped up so incredibly and people and the world have moved ahead,” he said. “You need a Pope who’s able to speak to the people, be where people are and speak to them in a language that they will understand.”
While predicting the timing of the next Pope’s selection may be difficult, Lovett is predicting an element of surprise.
“At the end of the day, we’re all going to be surprised by the man who walks onto that balcony,” he said.
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