On February 28, 2013, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI will vacate the papacy. According to the Code of Canon Law, “When the Roman See is vacant, or completely impeded, no innovation is to be made in the governance of the universal Church.”
Upon resigning, the Pope will go to the papal summer residence near Rome, then move to a cloistered residence in the Vatican. In his resignation, the Pope referred to his health issues and opened the door for the College of Cardinals to put in place a younger man. Traditionally, papal successors have not been clones of the predecessor, as witnessed by Pope John Paul II.
The College of Cardinals (members under 80 years old) will convene sometime within the next several months to name a successor. Pope Benedict XVI could have some influence in the voting since he has appointed many of the younger members. The Conclave could vote on the basis of familiarity with Church administration and select someone like Angelo Cardinal Sodano, Patriarch of Venice (at 71).
Other youthful members of the College of Cardinals include Josip Cardinal Bozanic of Zagreb (at 63), Oscar Andres Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiega of Tegucigalpa ( at 70), Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York ( at 63) or Marc Cardinal Ouellet (at 68) of Canada. Another possibility is Christoph Schönborn (at 68) , Archbishop of Vienna, a plausible European candidate and proponent of the New Evangelization, as is Marc Cardinal Ouellet and others.
The Conclave could focus on an American candidate; possibly Timothy Cardinal Dolan (age 63) with experience in important pastoral issues in both rural and inner city America. If an American choice cannot emerge in the Conclave, then the assembly could select a candidate like Marc Cardinal Ouellet of Canada or Oscar Andres Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiega of Tegucigalpa.
The Cardinals could also select a cardinal from Africa as it did with Pope St. Miltiades or Pope St. Gelasius centuries ago. Francis Cardinal Arinze (age 80) is a member of the College of Cardinals from Africa. He has considerable familiarity with issues of the sacraments; however, his advancing age could become a factor. Another African candidate is Cardinal Peter Turkson, 64,
of Ghana. Cardinal Turkson’s name is already being discussed by Vatican insiders. Clearly, the Conclave must consider age as an issue because stability and continuity of the Church is important during these times.
Some good candidates have declined to be considered further for the papacy; among them, Giovanni Cardinal Columbo, Archbishop of Milan in October, 1978. Just after his declination to be considered further, Karol Wojtyla was elevated to the papacy and became Pope John Paul II.
Within the next few months, the Conclave will convene again as it did in 2005 and 1978. If past history is any indication, the new pope will have some prominent distinguishing characteristics from the previous one.