A prominent British Catholic editorial has framed the ecclesial stakes both bluntly and elegantly when it gently thunders:

"So the cardinals may be searching among themselves for someone who is neither Pole nor policeman, someone sufficiently open to the modern world to know that it has something to tell him as well something it needs to hear; a pastoral man who knows the Counter-Reformation is over; as Gaudium et Spes (Vatican Council Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) put it, the sort of follower of Christ of whom it may be said "nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their heart."

To find the right candidate, it would be a comfort to know that should the cardinalatial pool prove insufficient to the task, the electors would search for the right man among the abbots, bishops, etc. of the universal church. But the probability of such happening is as unlikely as Steve Colbert being appointed Vatican Secretary of State.

Given then that the "sort of follower" we should be looking for is to be found among the electors, what are the pickings?

Now the mugs game of speculation shifts gear. Who should we have and what do we need take second place to the fevered guess work that will now dominate the reportage emanating from Rome, the prognostications of the pundits in the studios, and the most fervent prayers of the ardent.

Not having the advantage of access to a Vatican fifth columnist, I have to work from the reputation and established record of the mooted candidates -- as well as the dark horses -- as well as the anecdotes and personal experience complied over three decades.

So here goes, by continent:

First -- the US, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and Australia.

Among the 11 electors in the U.S., many are too old (William Levada, recent of the Curia, and  Francis George of Chicago), tainted by sex abuse scandals (Justin Rigali, former Archbishop of Philadelphia, and Roger Mahoney, former Archbishop of Los Angeles), Curial functionaries with little support from the Curia for the job (Edwin O'Brien, Raymond Burke, and James Harvey), and four residential cardinals of major Metropolitan Sees -- Donald Wuerl of Washington, Daniel DiNardo of Galveston, Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean O'Malley of Boston.  And of these latter only two have been talked about as papabili: Dolan and O'Malley.

For sheer bonhomie and Hibernian bluster few can compete with Dolan.  But he lacks the intellectual heft and gravitas that accompanies the papacy and there are some lingering doubts about the wisdom and appropriateness of judgments he made when Archbishop of Milwaukee.

O'Malley has the Midas touch when it comes to pastoral effectiveness when working in broken and riven dioceses.  His work of healing in the deeply wounded Boston -- locus of the worst concentration of archiepiscopal incompetence and priestly predation -- has been extraordinary by any measure. His benign Franciscan appearance and simple living style speak to his prayerful authenticity.

He is an American Albino Luciani (John Paul I) in some key ways and could be an ideal compromise candidate. With of course the proviso that he live longer than John Paul I ( who died in office in less than a month).

Canada has a serious candidate in Marc Ouellet (a previous blog focused on him and Paul-Emile Leger) but only to the degree that the electors attach the highest priority to continuity with the Benedictine style and theological legacy.

The UK has no cardinals in the running following the self-elimination by the disgraced Keith O'Brien of Edinburgh.

The Republic of Ireland is not a player given that the Archdiocese of Dublin's cardinal is emeritus and the current archbishop does not have a red hat, and given that the Primate and Archbishop of Armagh, Sean Brady, has not distanced himself successfully from the numerous calls for his resignation over negligence regarding a sex abuse case in the 1970s when he was a priest.

Australia's George Pell of Sydney is too conservative, for even conservative cardinals.

Tomorrow: the Latin Americans.

Dr. Michael W. Higgins is CTV's Papal commentator. He is also:

  • Vice President for Mission & Catholic Identity, Sacred Heart University
  • Chief Consultant, for “Sir Peter Ustinov’s Inside the Vatican” 6-part series
  • Author of Bestsellers: Power and Peril: the Catholic Church at the Crossroads , (HarperCollins, 2002) and Stalking the Holy: In Pursuit of Saint-Making (Anansi, 2006)
  • Author of Award-winners: Heretic Blood: the Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton (Stoddart, 1998) and Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Inquiry into the Clerical sex Abuse Scandal (Novalis, 2010)
  • Past President of St. Jerome’s in Waterloo & St. Thomas In Fredericton NB