Who will be the next Pope?
As news of the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI reverberates around the world, the lights are going out all over Europe - or at least in the offices of the Telegraph. It is indeed an act of considerable humility - indeed, kenotic and Christ-like - to resign such high and exalted office. By doing so, Pope Benedict XVI has sealed his place in history as one of the great reformers. No longer will popes need to drool on unto death: there is now precedent for an alternative to second childishness and papal oblivion.
Pope Benedict XVI has been the most searing intellect to occupy the Chair of St Peter for at least a couple of centuries, and the vacuum he leaves will be immense. It was an enormous blessing to the Church that his pontificate coincided with the archepiscopacy of Rowan Williams: together they were theological giants in a sea of prelate pygmies.
But Pope Benedict is not dead: some may be cracking out the Valium and Prozac or knocking back the Scotch, but the world is not in mourning. While canon lawyers will now determine how he should be styled in his retirement (Papa Emeritus?), the world's eyes naturally turn to his successor, and this haste is by no means unseemly (except for those now wallowing in depression). It is astonishing to think that the forthcoming Conclave of Cardinals - most of whom owe their positions to Pope Benedict - will gather to make their decision while the living-ghost of their holy patron looms large. He will not be in the Conclave, of course, for he is not a cardinal. He is also over 80 years old, which precludes him voting in any case.
Another person specifically excluded from voting in the Lenten (apt timing) Conclave on the grounds of advancing years is Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. Since Archbishop Vincent Nichols does not (yet) have a red hat, for the first time in the modern era Mary's Dowry will have no vote on who will be elected the next Pope. There is a certain delicious irony in this, for the Roman Catholic Bishops of England & Wales have been - how shall we say - a little obstructive in implementing the Benedictine reforms, especially those relating to liturgy. This is unlikely to have played any part in the timing of the Pope's decision, of course, because it would seem awfully petty and vindictive, and he just isn't like that.
His Grace received a kind offer from Roseanna Cunningham MSP for Scotland to speak and vote on behalf of England in the Conclave, but that doesn't seem very appropriate given their quest to leave the United Kingdom. His Grace is quite sure that the Holy Spirit will get on just fine without an English cardinal, rather like the European Union would get along swimmingly without the UK.
So, who will be the next Pope? His Grace once favoured Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, but he seems to have blown it, especially given the likely welcoming In-Tray. There's some muttering about Cardinal Dolan of New York, but a US pope isn't very likely in an age of American hegemony: one needs to maintain a balance of powers. Some are calling for a Latin American or an African pope, and the first black pope would be symbolic indeed.
There's a very neat summary of the key runners and riders HERE. On betting odds (not that His Grace endorses such a practice), we have Paddy Power (presently) favouring Cardinal Mark Ouellet of Canada, and William Hill favouring Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. These will, of course, change with the money. Sadly, His Grace is not eligible to stand, since his holy orders are 'absolutely null and utterly void'. The prospect of Pope Richard Dawkins, however, with current odds of 666/1, is highly amusing.