Papabile or Not? Cardinal Peter Turkson

The term ‘papabile’ means Pope-able, referring to persons who are considered to be suitable candidates to be the next Pope. The term Pope come from the Italian word ‘Papa’, since the Pope is the holy father of the Church on earth. What factors make a man ‘papabile’ is a matter of amicable dispute among the faithful. Any adult Catholic man can, as a sheer possibility, be elected Pope. But typically, the Pope is chosen from among the Cardinals of the Church. In this series of posts, I consider individual Cardinals and what factors make them papabile or not.

Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson is currently the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He is from Ghana in Africa. Is he papabile?

Pro: He is part of the Vatican Curia. The Cardinals are more likely to elect someone as Pope who has some administrative experience in the Church. The election for Pope is not based solely on holiness or on scholarly credentials.

In the past, Popes were typically Italian. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome and, in past generations, it was helpful if he could speak Italian in order to lead the Church in Rome and to lead the Curia of the Holy See. But in modern times, due to easy communication and travel, this necessity is lessened. More members of the Curia are from outside of Italy. Translation into many languages is facilitated by computers and ease of communication in modern times. Pope John Paul II (a Polish Cardinal) was chosen to lead the Church, and Pope Benedict XVI (a German Cardinal) is the current Pope. Their Pontificates have proven that the Pope need not be Italian.

In the present time, many Cardinals are said to prefer a non-European Pope, because the Church is a worldwide institution. Since it is no longer a necessity that the Pope be Italian, some Popes should be chosen from other areas of the world, even outside Europe. In past generations, most Cardinals were European. But today, a large percentage of Cardinals are non-European. In particular, some Cardinals would like to see a Pope from the developing world, such as South America or Africa. The Church has a particular concern (the preferential option) for the poor, and so a Pope from a developing region is fitting. Additionally, some Cardinals would like to see the next Pope be other than of white European descent, again because the Church is universal, encompassing all ethnicities and nations.

Pro: Cardinal Turkson is from Africa, and is black. As a non-European non-white Cardinal, with experience in the Curia, he will be on the minds of the other Cardinals as a possible candidate.

Con: Cardinal Peter Turkson is young; he turns 64 in 2012. If he were elected, his Pontificate might last 20 years or more. The Cardinals are not likely to choose a Pope who might have a long Pontificate.. The Cardinals have the privilege and responsibility of voting for each successive Pope, and they like to exercise that ability more than once every quarter century. They would like to avoid a long Pontificate, like that of Pope John Paul II.

Con: Cardinal Turkson has a liberal and in my view erroneous opinion on the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of disease (particularly AIDS). He does not see the use of condoms between a married couple, to prevent disease transmission as intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Instead, he sees it as merely impractical, because the condoms are not effective enough. [CNS]

He also stated: “I know that in all situations of pastoral counseling the pastor never decides what a candidate must do.” [Zenit] This approach of pastoral counseling apart from definitive doctrine is incompatible with Catholic teaching. The Magisterium teaches that certain kinds of acts are inherently immoral, and therefore always to be rejected. It is not a matter for the subjective judgment of each individual.

The liberal Cardinals might favor him for his liberal views and his pastoral approach. But the conservative Cardinals would worry that his election might undermine the Church’s constant teaching that the use of contraception is intrinsically evil. The mass media would immediately highlight, exaggerate, and distort his position, making it seem as if the new Pope does approve of, or might soon approve of contraception.

Conclusion: The cons outweigh the pros. The conservative Cardinals, who dominate the college of Cardinals, would not be willing to elect him as Pope.

For more on future Popes, see my booklets:
Notes on the Apocalypse: 2012
The Future and the Popes

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic moral theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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