Assoc. Prof. Rev. Robert Imbelli (Theology) being interviewed at an April 1 press conference in Burns Library. Reflecting on Pope John Paul IIís great popularity, he said: "There was something of a revelation of holiness that amidst the secularization of the West, people were still able to detect ‚ a witness to the invisible, to the transcendent." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Faculty experts mull the outcome of upcoming papal conclave
By Mark Sullivan
The Holy Spirit blows where It will, the saying goes, and an enduring image of the recent papal funeral was of cardinals' red mantles billowing from the wind gusting across St. Peter's Square.
A portent for the coming conclave? "I believe in omens," said Vice President and Special Assistant to the President William Neenan, SJ, who, with the campus and the world, awaits the white smoke from the cardinals' gathering at the Vatican that on April 18 begins the historic process of selecting a new pontiff.
"This is a critical moment in the history of the Church," Fr. Neenan said. "What kind of a pope do I hope for? I hope the next Holy Father is a person who listens to the Spirit, and while listening, observes the signs of the times, and responds in a courageous and prayerful manner."
Church observers at the Heights were asked what they'll be watching for as 130 cardinals from around the world convene in secret next week to choose a new pope.
"We should all be prepared to be surprised," said Prof. James O'Toole (History), a biographer of Boston Cardinal William O'Connell. "In history, papal elections tend to turn out differently than we expect them to.
"Pius IX was thought to be a liberal when he was elected in 1846, and he turned out to be just the opposite," said O'Toole. "John XXIII was expected to be a caretaker who wasn't going to do much except keep the seat warm - and his five years affected the Church in ways that still are being felt today."
Former Gasson Professor John O'Malley, SJ, who is Distinguished Professor of Church History at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, said: "I think this time it's anybody's guess. It's hard to predict what will happen.
"This outpouring of appreciation [for the late pope] is going to have an impact on how they're thinking," the noted historian of the early Jesuits predicted. "On the other hand, there's an old saying: No one is less popular in Rome than the last pope."
Rev. Robert Imbelli, associate professor of theology at BC, noted the increasing weight of Latin America, Africa and Asia in Church demographics. "It will be very interesting to see whether the person elected is from the Southern Hemisphere," he said.
How difficult will it be to replace the pope now being called John Paul the Great?
"Everybody will call attention to the conclave of 1958, when Pius XII died," said Fr. Imbelli. "To those of us who were young at the time, he was the only Holy Father we'd known. The thought is they gravitated toward an older cardinal who would not reign as long."
That conclave chose John XXIII, who went on to make history by calling the Second Vatican Council.
The word "conclave" comes from the Latin for "with key," and implies that the cardinals are locked in a room until a new pope is chosen. The need for a two-thirds majority has led to deadlocks in the past, famously in the late 13th century when cardinals were unable for three years to choose a successor to Clement IV until town citizens reduced the cardinals to bread and water and tore the roof from the palace in which they were staying.
Under new procedures introduced by John Paul II to smooth the voting process, cardinals will take a day off for discernment if no decision is reached after three days, and if the vote is deadlocked after 30 ballots, the cardinals will have the option to go to a simple rather than a two-thirds majority to elect a candidate.
"It will now be impossible for them to go on and on and on at loggerheads, so the townsfolk won't have to take the roof off the place and refuse them food and water," said Rev. Thomas O'Malley, SJ, an adjunct professor in the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program and the former president of John Carroll and Loyola Marymount universities.
His wish for the conclave? "I look to have a pope who is friendly to higher education in the Catholic style," said the veteran Jesuit college president. "She [the Church] has to live in the House of Intellect."
Might a Jesuit emerge as the next pope?
It's possible, but unlikely, observers say. Three of the world's nine Jesuit cardinals are of voting age to participate in the papal conclave. Two mentioned as papabile, or possible candidates for the papacy, are Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, of Argentina, and Julius Darmaatmadja, SJ, of Indonesia. The third, Carlo Maria Martini, SJ, of Milan, at 78, is seen as a potentially influential voice in deliberations but may be considered too old to be elected himself.
"The chances of a Jesuit pope? Zero," predicted Fr. Neenan.
Indeed, he noted, Jesuits, in their final vows, are required to renounce episcopal office and to denounce any fellow Jesuit who shows ambition to win ecclesial rank outside the order. Before being named bishop a Jesuit must be dismissed from these vows.
"If I know of any other Jesuit who is trying to become a bishop, I am to report him to my provincial," commented Fr. Neenan, good humor in his voice.
Fr. Imbelli remarked on the great public reaction to the passing of John Paul II, laid to rest amid calls for his sainthood from many of the faithful in St. Peter's Square.
"The incredible outpouring at John Paul's passing exceeded anyone's expectation," Fr. Imbelli said. "What was there about this man that prompted that?
"There was something of a revelation of holiness that amidst the secularization of the West, people were still able to detect - a witness to the invisible, to the transcendent."
Prof. Stephen Brown (Theology), a specialist in medieval philosophy, said the worldwide outpouring at the death of this tremendously popular pope brought to mind Jacques-Louis David's monumental painting at the Louvre of Napoleon's 1804 coronation at Notre Dame.
In the painting, Bonaparte crowns Josephine while Pius VII, in the background, offers a blessing, having been impelled to come to Paris and consecrate Napoleon as emperor. This was after the previous Pope, Pius VI, had been imprisoned by Napoleon's forces and died in a French jail cell.
"They didn't think there would be any more popes," Brown said of the revolutionary visionaries of 300 years ago.
"It shows the unpredictability of history."