VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - A revealing book by a veteran Vatican journalist is kickstarting prognostications about Pope Francis' successor by shortlisting the most eligible cardinals likely to fill the shoes of the fisherman.
The first of its kind, Edward Pentin's meticulously researched handbook to the next conclave provides a panoramic and penetrating study into the theological, doctrinal, liturgical, moral and social beliefs of 19 front-runners for the papacy.
The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates, published by Sophia Institute Press, names Tridentine Mass traditionalists like American cardinal Raymond Burke alongside Austrian cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who promotes "blasphemy" through heavy metal Masses and homosexual activism.
Among the 19 papabili are two traditionalists, seven liberals and ten conservative candidates.
"At the moment, I think the cardinals would probably try to bridge the divide and choose a candidate like Cdl. Pietro Parolin. If they were to lean more conservative, then Cdl. Robert Sarah, and if more liberal, then Cdl. Luis Antonio Tagle," Pentin told Church Militant.
"It really depends whether the cardinal electors go down the route of continuity with Pope Francis or revert to orthodoxy," he explained.
Parolin currently serves as Vatican Secretary of State. "Nearly all of Parolin's homilies include a quotation from Pope Francis," Pentin astutely observes in his chapter on the bureaucrat whose "diplomatic expertise and pragmatism" ... "catapulted him to the second-highest position in the Church."
According to Pentin, Parolin also supports Pope Francis' "prioritization of dialogue with the Islamic world and sees it as a vital means of achieving peace in the face of Islamism."
"As someone close to the poor and with an ecclesial and political outlook similar to Francis, he is seen as a natural successor to the current pope, someone expected to continue many, if not all, of Francis' reforms but in a quieter, subtler and more diplomatic manner," Pentin writes.
Underlining the book's raison d'être, Pentin noted that cardinals voting for a pope "need to be able to discern the righteous from the rogues, the saints from the schemers, the apostles from the bureaucrats."
"At a conclave, it's usually not just the faithful who have little or no knowledge of a prospective pope. Perhaps, surprisingly, neither do the cardinals who are voting for him," Pentin, who has covered the Vatican for 17 years, revealed.
"At the last conclave in 2013, one cardinal memorably said he found the information he received confusing and others complained about a dearth of information on who they were voting for," he added, elaborating: "This problem has been made more acute since Pope Francis ceased holding pre-consistory meetings of the College of Cardinals. The event was traditionally a good opportunity for cardinals to meet and get to know one another."
Apart from "equipping cardinals and the faithful at large with a detailed knowledge of some of the cardinals we believe are most likely to be elected pope" Pentin, a faithful Catholic, said he hoped his book would "also help the faithful to pray for the various candidates."
"Of course, the next successor of Peter may be none of them. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was not on many papabile lists in 2013, as he was considered by most observers to be too old," the author concedes in his book.
"This book isn't really about predictions but rather equipping readers with a full knowledge of who could be pope and allowing the reader to make up his own mind who best qualifies," Pentin remarked.
Church Militant asked Pentin to identify the two, uppermost considerations on the minds of the conclave cardinals when they cast their vote.
"I think a key consideration will be whether they wish to continue along Francis' line of reform and vision for the Church, one which critics say is simply modernism, or take a route clearly in continuity with Tradition — not traditionalist necessarily, but certainly more conservative," Pentin replied.
"An old Rome saying is that a 'fat pope follows a thin one' — in other words a liberal pope tends to follow a conservative one and vice-versa, in which case I think it's more likely the cardinal electors will lean more conservative at the next conclave."
"A second consideration, I think, will be whether the candidate has a good, all-around knowledge of the universal Church, not just a Eurocentic/Western one or limited to a country on the periphery," Pentin observed.
The book's introduction provides a theological and historical survey of the offices of pope and cardinal — from the Old Testament through Church history — setting the scene for holiness and intrigue in modern-day, papal elections.
"The bishop of Rome is the successor to St. Peter, not to Christ; he is the Vicar of Christ on earth, not a substitute for Him," Pentin stresses, recalling the lament of St. Robert Bellarmine in 1605, before a conclave: "We are about to enter into a conclave again, and we have need of much prayer, for I do not see a single person in the Sacred College [of Cardinals] that possesses the qualities [necessary]. And what is worse, no one is looking for such a person."
After a brief biography of a cardinal's ecclesiastical life, each study in the book zeroes in on the threefold office of priest (role of sanctifying), king (role of governing) and prophet (role of teaching) required of a successor to the Apostles — examining where each candidate stands on critical issues from liturgy to homosexuality, from Islam to immigration and from priestly celibacy to women's ordination.
Readers who wish to employ a litmus test for orthodoxy will be tempted to hone in on the section where Pentin reveals where each candidate stands on contraception and Humanae Vitae.
An Anglican convert to Catholicism, Pentin shot to prominence when he exposed underhand dealings at the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family in his book The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?
At the synod, the Rome correspondent busted liberal German Cdl. Walter Kasper for racially disparaging African bishops who were resisting his pro-homosexual proposals.
For orthodox Catholics who worry that Pope Francis may have stacked the deck by packing the college with liberals, Pentin sounds a note of hope: "Even the fact that a pope appoints the large majority of cardinals does not guarantee that they will elect someone like him; sometimes to the contrary."