Crucial influencers at the conclave

There are not many historical precedents for a pope resigning. The last one was in 1415, when Gregory the XII abdicated, thus ending the Papal Schism in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1294 Pope Celestine V, a pious monk before being elected pope, stepped down voluntarily after only five months of dismal administration. The Church eventually made Celestine V a saint (although no subsequent pope would take the name), but Dante sentenced him to the antechamber of hell along with the lukewarm and morally slothful for having “made of cowardice the great refusal.” So Benedict XVI’s decision is without question a momentous historic event. For the first time in the modern era the Church will manage a complicated succession, with the imposing figure of Joseph Ratzinger looming over the new pope that will emerge from the upcoming conclave.
In this confusing time, the influence of some cardinals could be crucial to reviving the fortunes of the Roman Catholic Church, either by electing an open and modern pope, or simply a pontiff with enough administrative acumen and leadership capacity to bring some spiritual discipline back to the ranks of the wayward Curia. Ratzinger’s resignation will also have political implications, which will have to be reckoned with. It will no doubt disrupt the balance of power among rival cardinals who have been vying for power behind the scenes and, more recently, even in public leaks of information. For this reason the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, is very active in establishing the necessary consent to the election of a friendly pope – or friendly to his faction. Although Bertone is disliked by many Roman cardinals, his influence is undeniable and will weigh in the conclave. But Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Bertone’s predecessor and arch-rival, could exert considerable influence as the Dean of the College of Cardinals, the man in charge of organizing the conclave. Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, will also have a significant impact on the conclave. As the cardinals go into the conclave the question of whether or not an Italian returns to the papacy, after a German and the Polish John Paul II. Or perhaps it’s time for a non-European pope, or even a black pope?