But papal politics, maybe more than even presidential politics, is also about personalities as much as issues — about picking not just a world leader but a good and holy man to be the pastor of a billion souls. That leads to the kind of personal inquiries that can be especially unsettling, and can undermine the very decorum and display of charity that the process is supposed to embody.
Part of the problem is that there is no formal system for vetting candidates or investigating their background. The cardinals do not release their medical histories to the public or to each other, and many of the electors come from countries where they have no free press to investigate any skeletons in their closets. On the flip side, others come from countries where the press is free to publish any rumors or speculation, and with precious little time to rebut any allegations before the conclave begins.
It makes for a rough process, since candidates cannot campaign for the papacy — that is considered unseemly to the point of disqualifying — but an opposing camp can do everything possible to sow doubts about someone through the media.
Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who is considered a contender, last week faced renewed criticisms over comments in 2002 that he made about Jews and the media; Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, has been the subject of an intense campaign to force him to skip the conclave because of newly released files showing how he protected abusive clergy.
Perhaps the height, or depth, of the whispering campaign was shown in reports over the weekend that Filipino Cardinal Luis Tagle has been known to tear up in public, and in fact did so when Benedict gave him a cardinal’s red hat last November. The assumption is that there is no crying in the papacy, and Tagle told an Italian newspaper on Saturday that he had apologized to the pope for his tears.
“No, you don’t need to apologize,” the pope told Tagle. “We need heart in the church!”
Now there’s a campaign slogan you may not hear in the coming weeks.
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