The conclave has now begun. 

The "extra omnes" was intoned by one of the monsignorial dignataries;  the slow evacuation of the Sistine Chapel of all those not directly involved in the election of the next supreme pontiff assured. Now the voting begins. The names emerge.

Although the fate of Catholic Church leadership -- that is putting it rather grandly, I know -- is now in the hands of a select group of men whose thinking around the papacy has been disclosed in bits rather than in wholesome chunks, we still have enough to nibble on, we still have enough to chew.  

The Europeans are not unaware that the demographics is not in their favour, that their continent is awash in an indifference distinguished by acute bouts of memory loss.

The church has been the bedrock of much that is noble and long lasting in the cultural and social histories that make up contemporary Europe -- and the fact that so few are generous in thanking the church for that patrimony, or indeed in even recognizing it, continues to be both a source of pain and resentment for those churchmen with longer memories.

So who among the Europeans can revive the fortunes of an institution that appears on its last clerical legs? 

Gianfranco Ravasi and Angelo Scola, among the 28 Italian cardinals, enjoy wider than Italian support, have benefitted from Benedict's trust and confidence, and in Scola's case particularly, share the Benedictine interest in faith and reason, alarm over the consequences of moral relativism, and an awareness of the challenges posed by religious pluralism in a once homogeneous society like Europe.

Given that Tarcisio Bertone, the maligned former Secretary of State, appears papabile suggests that some serious strategizing is afoot; if Bertone is eclipsed, so too will the fortunes of all those, Salesian and otherwise, who have relied on his patronage.

There are some impressive Germans but it is a slim chance indeed that Ratzinger's countrymen have much hope with this conclave.

The Dominican Christophe Schonborn of Vienna is the ablest administrator and most astute pastoral manager of his European colleagues:

  • he dealt directly with the nightmarish storm unleashed by the sexual improprieties and abuses perpetrated by his disgraced predecessor, Cardinal Hermann Groer
  • he moved with speed to honestly and transparently address the scandals occasioned by the Groer Affair, particularly in light of the dilatoriness of the Vatican response as well as the series of unwise, and in one case, offensive appointments of bishops to Austrian sees
  • he has met with various Catholic lay and clerical advocacy groups when more career-focused clerics would keep their distance
  • and he perpetrated a major indiscretion when he publicly corrected Cardinal Sodano and was summoned to Rome for a papal scolding

The latter two items –which highly recommend him in the eyes of many -- are likely to disqualify him among Sodano loyalists.

The African cardinals have a strong representation in Wilfrid Napier (considered among the papabili in 2005), John Oneiyekan, and Peter Turkson. The latter may well have seriously compromised his chances through a combination of overt eagerness for the job and naive bungling around the alleged causal relation of homosexuality and sex abuse.  There is no such empirical correlation.

It is the effervescent and theologically moderate Luis Tagle of the Philippines, however, who has demonstrated in a comparatively short time a pastoral openness, multicultural savvy, and genuinely humble episcopal style sufficient to draw the attention and respect of electors keen on a vibrant communicator with just the right dose of gravitas.

Europe's religious destiny could be shaped by a Filipino.