BY GARRY EVERETT
The process for electing a Pope occurs within what is known as a conclave. This is a gathering of eligible Cardinals, who meet in a locked room without the means of communicating with the outside world, and vote until one man has the required majority.
In its current format, the process stems from about the 13th century Because of the secrecy that surrounds the conclave, little is known about how the decision is reached, other than the fact that four voting sessions are held each day until a candidate is announced as Pope.
Prior to the conclave, the cardinals meet for a few days in various informal groupings called ‘congregationals’. The purpose of these gatherings is to help the cardinals know each other.
New cardinals may be meeting older cardinals for the first time. New cardinals may be meeting each other in similar ways; and the older cardinals will be touching base again with their long-time colleagues.
In these meetings, no doubt there will be much talk about likely candidates, and who might seem to be better choices.
Once the conclave begins, it seems that voting becomes the dominant mode. While the process of voting is defensible, one is inclined to ask ‘On what basis is a vote cast?’ How well does each cardinal know the others? Is the knowledge based on a few meetings over many years? Is it based on reading something that a particular cardinal published sometime, somewhere?
We don’t really know, but I suspect that the process might not be as good as some processes to choose leaders for less significant positions.
I would like to nominate a different process.
If around 20 cardinals are gathered in the conclave, they should hear and be able to read in print or electronically, at least three pieces of information presented by each cardinal.
If each presentation were to take half an hour, there could be three each morning, and three each afternoon, with small group discussions to follow them. This would occupy 20 days. Already, I can hear some people say ‘that’s too long a time’, but is it? What the presentations and discussions provide is some deeper insights to integrated positions on vitally important matters that will affect the leadership about to be decided.
What might those matters be? I would suggest three.
Firstly, each cardinal should offer his vision for the Church he might soon be leading. Secondly, he needs to explain how his current life and ministry witnesses to such vision. Finally, he needs to outline how he sees the Church being on mission to the world.
The ensuing discussions would be wonderful opportunities for discerning leadership qualities. The key in all this is discernment, which requires certain conditions for its success. Listening, not just hearing, is of paramount importance, as is sifting the wheat from the chaff; quiet prayer and reflection is also a necessary ingredient.
The point of all this, is to enable the cardinals to have a fund of knowledge, and of processes, on which to base their decisions. It seems only fair and reasonable, that leadership be determined by informed and thoughtful material and ways of deciding.
There are other aspects of the conclave reported in the media which give rise to concern. One of these is block voting. I understand this to mean that various Conferences of Bishops e.g from North America or Europe can meet and determine to vote for one cardinal. This would seem to be inappropriate, and to be based on ‘getting their man elected’ rather than being open to the movement of the Spirit in a discerning way.
The obligation on each cardinal is to attend to each candidate, not to just cast a vote because national colleagues are doing so.
There is also expectation, in which some will argue that Europe provided the last two Popes, so the next should come from elsewhere . Again, this is hardly a defensible attitude to take into a conclave.
The Church should not be not subject to such considerations.
A third issue is a kind of patronage arrangement, whereby senior cardinals can arrange support for a candidate by by-passing a discernment process. Benedict himself framed the opinion that the role of the Spirit was not to choose the candidate, but to ensure that a disastrous decision was not made!
The Spirit heeds not national interests, patronage or block voting.
Wise discernment needs the prayerful support of as many people as possible.
The bishops, clergy, religious and laity can help the conclave deliberations by their prayers, not so much for a successful outcome, as for a wise process. Rome has not shown much evidence of being strong on good processes, and this conclave may be no exception.
In addition to our prayers, we should all be courageous enough to offer our thoughts on how to improve the ways of choosing the successor of Peter.
Peter didn’t win a popularity contest. Neither should his successor.
Garry Everett is deputy chair of Mercy Partners in Queensland and a former Deputy Director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission and previous chair of the Brisbane Archdiocesan Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.
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