Friday, 22 March 2013

Francis: Portrait of the Pope as a young man

Just before Christmas 1936, Regina Bergoglio gave birth to her first child, who she named Jorge, which is Spanish for George. As she held her baby boy in the intense sunshine of an Argentinean summer, little did she know that she was nurturing a future Pope.
In 1929 Regina and her husband Mario had emigrated from Piedmont in northern Italy and had started their family in the Americas. Mario toiled on the railway, while Regina became a full-time housewife and devoted her life to her five children. They had a modest existence, being so thrifty that new clothes were seen as dangerously lavish, not once going on holidays and never owning a car.
They were not poor, but were unassuming upper-working-class Italians who considered themselves very fortunate to have secure housing in Flores, an ordinary suburb of Buenos Aires, a city that had its share of squatter settlements and slums. Many of Mario Bergog-lio’s fellow workers on the railroads would have lived in shanty towns.

At the time, migrants from different parts of Argentina and from Europe were trying to eke out an existence in Buenos Aires – or at least get a menial job. Society in Buenos Aires in the 1930s was stubbornly Victorian and priggish. High Victorian fashions were still de rigeur. Even the slightest bad etiquette was frowned upon. People were not easily forgiven for having come from a lower class, and the rich and poor classes painfully chafed against each other. The Bergoglios were different: unlike many of their contemporaries, they were cultured but not obsessed with social climbing.
Regina and Mario could not abide wasting food and ensured that their children cleaned their plates at meal times. Regina was an excellent cook and diligently taught Jorge how to cook all manner of Italian dishes. When he was growing up, on Saturdays Jorge would sit with his mother and listen to opera on the radio. Reminiscing about this he has said: “It was just the most lovely thing.” The Bergoglios were keen to assimilate and did not mix exclusively with other Italians. Also, snubbing the poor and resenting the penurious because they cast shadows of misfortune on the great city of Buenos Aires was not their approach. It was here, in 1940s Buenos Aires, seeing emaciated children go hungry while richer people in furs scorned them for their lowliness, that the future Pope began to abhor snobbery. 

The young Jorge was bookish, busy cultivating his love for literature and dazzled by the colourful local Jewish community, which put on plays. Known for his literary leanings, his chief field of study, however, was chemistry, a subject in which he earned a Master’s degree.
As a young man, he had a wide circle of friends and a girlfriend with whom he danced the tango, until the stirrings of a vocation caused him to break from his sweetheart and give up dancing. He told Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin, the authors of his 2010 biography, that his ex-girlfriend “was one of the group of friends I went dancing with. But then I discovered my religious vocation.” He entered the Society of Jesus as a 21-year-old, which was then considered a slightly late vocation. In his early 20s, an unshakable lung infection and lack of the right treatment meant that he lost a lung. He was ordained in December 1969, a few days before he turned 33.

Having impressed his superiors when he was novice master of the San Miguel seminary, he was only 37 when he was elected superior of the Jesuit province of Argentina. His decision-making during this time is the most highly contested period of his biography. Present-day Argentina is still grappling with the memories of the military’s violent rule from 1976 to 1983. Allegations persist that Pope Francis was complicit in the regime of Jorge Rafael Videla. The then Fr Bergoglio was the highest-ranking Jesuit in Buenos Aires and has since been pilloried for not speaking out against the junta’s abuse of power. At the time, army generals were attempting to rid society of people who they suspected were Left-wing subversives. 

What is certain is that during the “Dirty War” he demanded absolute obedience and political neutrality of his priests, something that many of them greatly resented. The Jesuit order was showing cracks because of infighting, as many priests were seduced by a blend of Marxism and Liberation Theology, and rebelled against the traditional nature of a priestly vocation. 

One man who is leading the charge against Pope Francis is journalist Horacio Verbitsky, who in his 2005 book The Silence accuses him of allowing the military to use the Jesuit headquarters as a secret base. Denying this allegation, Pope Francis says he gave a home to dissidents in the Jesuits’ mother house. An even more contentious sequence of events involves two Jesuits, Fr Orlando Yorio and Fr Francisco Jalics, who in the 1970s were evangelising and starting literacy programmes in the shanty town Belén-Bethlehem. The military panicked, believing that such work could spark a rebellion in the slums. Fr Bergoglio gave Fr Yorio and Fr Jalics an order to stop going to Belén-Bethlehem. But a conflict arose between the zealous Fr Yorio and Fr Jalics, who wanted to educate the disadvantaged and their superior, Fr Bergoglio, who didn’t want them to lose their lives. Fr Yorio and Fr Jalics defied Fr Bergoglio and were arrested by the navy in May 1976. Later Fr Yorio claimed that he and Jalics and several youth workers were arrested because Fr Bergoglio “withdrew his protection” from them and this gave the army “a green light” to arrest him. But Pope Francis insisted in his biography that ordering them to stop going to the slums was the only way to ensure they wouldn’t be killed. The then Fr Bergoglio was not a member of the military and, even if he had been, he would have had little power to assuage the generals’ paranoia that there would be a proletarian uprising, aided by energetic young Jesuits who would empower the “subversives”. 

There is also controversy surrounding babies, born to captives, who were covertly adopted by pro-junta families after the mothers were killed. Some claim that in the 1970s Pope Francis was privy to information about these babies who were being taken from their mothers. In 2010, when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he appeared in a court that was uncovering what had happened to the babies. He testified that it wasn’t until 1985 that he knew that the babies of “subversives” were being given to supporters of Videla. 

Fr Bergoglio’s six years as a leader in the Jesuit community were hard on his nerves, and in 1980 he returned to the seminary in San Miguel as rector. Going from provincial superior to rector was both peculiar and seen as somewhat of a self-imposed demotion, but he remained in this post until 1986. He put his culinary talent to full use and cooked for the students. On hearing the compliment that he was a good chef, he replied: “Well, nobody has died yet from my cooking.”
A key awakening in his spiritual life happened in 1985, when he attended a rosary that was being led by Blessed Pope John Paul II. He described it in these words: “In the middle of the prayer I became distracted, looking at the figure of the Pope: his piety, his devotion was a witness… and the time drifted away, and I began to imagine the young priest, the seminarian, the poet, the worker, the child from Wadowice… in the same position in which knelt at that moment, reciting Ave Maria after Ave Maria. His witness struck me… I felt that this man, chosen to lead the Church, was following a path up to his Mother in the sky, a path set out on from his childhood. And I became aware of the density of the words of the Mother of Guadalupe to St Juan Diego: ‘Don’t be afraid, am I not perhaps your mother?’ I understood the presence of Mary in the life of the Pope.”
From that day onwards, Pope Francis has recited the 15 mysteries of the rosary every day. That moment, when he was struck by John Paul II’s example, may have renewed his vim and vigour as a leader, something that had been sorely tested in the 1970s.
In 1992 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. In contrast to the Jesuits of the 1970s, the ordinary clergy of the diocese grew fond of their bishop. He did something simple but revolutionary: setting up a phone line that was exclusively for priests who needed to call him and he would encourage them to use it, day or night. Bishop Bergoglio had a strict code of coming in person to the aid of his priests, staying with them in crises, or keeping a bedside vigil with priests who were elderly and in poor health. In contrast to his earlier reputation for being somewhat indifferent to the people subsisting in the shanty towns, he was known in the early 1990s as a bishop who would keep tabs on precisely how his priests were helping poorer parishioners. He spent his days travelling around the diocese, so that he could keep poor people company, help out in soup kitchens and visit Aids victims. His schedule was gruelling and one of his few luxuries was taking refuge in a good novel.

The poverty-stricken children who were his peers when he was a youngster in the 1940s were in his thoughts and he was determined to use his prominence as a bishop to better the lot of the impoverished, as opposed to rubbing shoulders with the Argentinean elite. He eschewed ostentation, showiness and glamour. Journalists dogged his heels, wanting exclusive interviews, and social climbers sought photo opportunities, but with a famously understated smile, and a reserved manner, he refused interviews and walked away from them. This man for all seasons would never be their man. 

I wrote this biography of the Pope's early life for the March 22nd Catholic Herald

Monday, 11 March 2013

The case for Cardinal Zen to be elected Pope

‘The Communists have always one policy that is to control the Church, and since they cannot accept double loyalty: loyalty to the country and loyalty to one’s religion. They want to separate Chinese Catholics from Rome: that is their only goal.” This is Chinese Cardinal Zen’s terse but on-the-ball assessment of the Chinese Communist government’s relationship with Catholicism. There are up to 12 million Catholics in China, but half the Catholic population attend government-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association churches. But this structure does not pledge unambiguous allegiance to the Pope. 

A cardinal since 2006, Cardinal Zen has always insisted loudly that the Patriotic Church merely imitates the Catholic Church with the aim of deluding Catholics into joining it, when in reality, it is expected to follow the Chinese government and not the Pope. The irony is that many of the members of the Patriotic Church, set up in 1957, love the Holy Father and privately promise faithfulness to Rome. Thus, Cardinal Zen says, “we really only have one Church”, comprised of Catholics, who either attend Patriotic Association churches or underground churches, but who all want to do the Pope’s will.
Pope Benedict defined the Church’s role in China in a public letter to Chinese Catholics in May 2007. Benedict XVI bemoaned “the grave limitations” that the Chinese government puts in place to sideline the true Catholic Church and “suffocate pastoral activity”. In July 2011 and July 2012, the Holy See excommunicated three Chinese bishops because they had undergone consecration as bishops without first getting the Pope’s approval. 

On his blog and in the public sphere, Cardinal Zen openly urges the Vatican to excommunicate more bishops who are illicitly ordained. Few cardinals would have fought so vocally and against such opposition for the supremacy of the Holy See, as Cardinal Zen has done in the last few decades. Concerning even bishops who were validly ordained, he says they can be “more on the side of the [Chinese] government than of the Holy See, more servants of the government than shepherds of the flock”. He also does not mince his words when talking about senior curial officials at the Vatican. Cardinal Zen has been quick to say that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples has wanted “appeasement” with the Chinese government. He says its policies do not always help the persecuted Chinese Catholics and the bishops who have been jailed. 

This candid Prince of the Church was born on January 13 1932 in Shanghai to very pious parents. He entered the Salesians in the Hong Kong novitiate. He was ordained at the age of 29 on February 11 1961. On the day that Pope Benedict announced his abdication Cardinal Zen was celebrating 52 years of priesthood. 

He holds a licentiate in theology and a doctorate in philosophy, both earned at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome. He has had a variety of teaching assignments in China. He is first and foremost a son of Don Bosco and is very proud that he is a schoolteacher. Even in his 70s he wanted to go to Africa to teach in areas where there was a shortage of schoolteachers. Throughout his life, no matter how many pressing duties he had as a bishop, he would meet his former pupils. Interestingly, he taught in seminaries recognised by the Communist Party between 1989 and 1996. Then, he was appointed coadjutor Bishop of Hong Kong in 1996 by Pope John Paul II. 

Cardinal Zen bravely confronts politicians not just in China but also in America. In 2011, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party received a rapturous welcome in Washington DC, in spite of the grave human rights abuses in China. After the visit, Cardinal Zen went to Capitol Hill and reminded the political class that they didn’t have any reason to be “so optimistic”. It is his tireless mission to alert people to a situation in China that needs to change. This has led to him being hailed as “the conscience of China”. 

Cardinal Zen has a great love of the Extraordinary Form Mass and celebrated a Pontifical High Mass in May 2006, earning the esteem of many Latin Mass groups. 

While he may be 81, he looks not much older than 60. Vigorous and lively, even in retirement he has a schedule that would tire someone just to read it. No matter where he travels in the world, he makes a point of seeking out Chinese Catholics and telling them about the state of the Church in their native land. When he is asked if this is not a very exhausting existence, he strenuously rejects the notion, saying that he is a shepherd “for all Chinese Catholics” and that this means meeting with as many of them as possible anywhere in the world.

Cardinal Zen is proficient in English, speaking in pithy sentences and getting to the heart of the matter in seconds. Secularists moan that he’s brusque and discourteous, but the faithful feel he gets to the point and has the guts to say things that others would leave out for the sake of diplomacy. It is this perseverance in serving Chinese Catholics in different parts of the globe, and his stamina in fulfilling gruelling schedules and his defence of persecuted Christians, that lead many to think that he has what it takes to be pope. If he does it will be China’s loss, but Rome’s gain. 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Somebody who should have been born is gone

 The Abortion by Anne Sexton

Somebody who should have been born
is gone.

Just as the earth puckered its mouth,
each bud puffing out from its knot,
I changed my shoes, and then drove south.

Up past the Blue Mountains, where
Pennsylvania humps on endlessly,
wearing, like a crayoned cat, its green hair,

its roads sunken in like a gray washboard;
where, in truth, the ground cracks evilly,
a dark socket from which the coal has poured,

Somebody who should have been born
is gone.

the grass as bristly and stout as chives,
and me wondering when the ground would break,
and me wondering how anything fragile survives;

up in Pennsylvania, I met a little man,
not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all...
he took the fullness that love began.

Returning north, even the sky grew thin
like a high window looking nowhere.
The road was as flat as a sheet of tin.

Somebody who should have been born
is gone.

Yes, woman, such logic will lead
to loss without death. Or say what you meant,
you coward...this baby that I bleed.

The poet - Anne Sexton

(Some bloggers are posting poems about abortion - in tandem with the 40 Days for Life campaign in London led by Robert Colquhoun).
See Richard's blog for The Mother. And a big thanks to Countercultural Father who had the idea of posting poetry such as By The Babe Unborn to coincide with 40 Days.

Friday, 8 March 2013

"I had an abortion for the same reason - bad timing, partner didn't want the baby"

Vicky Pryce, charged with perversion of justice
Vicky Pryce has been found guilty of perversion of justice, and could have been sentenced to life (the biggest sentence anyone can get for this crime), but has got eight months in prison. She had made herself a whistle-blower, wanting to shame her journalist turned Lib-Dem-politician husband in the media when she revealed/claimed in the newspapers that he had made her take his speeding points, so that he would avoid a driving ban. In court, her defence for why she took the points was 'marital coercion'. To prove her case, she gave supporting evidence in the from of her revelation in court to having aborted a 'healthy' baby, following what she described as relentless pressure from her then-husband Huhne. Vicky Pryce described herself as 'accidentally pregnant' and said, 'despite my protestations, he got me to have an abortion, which I have regretted ever since.” Heart-breaking as this may be, the jury refused to believe it or did not think it relevant.

Pryce was not suing her husband because he pushed her into an abortion against her will. Had she taken her ex-husband to court for this reason - there may have been an entirely different outcome.

Instead, during a court battle when Dr Pryce was caught out in many lies, the jury decided to believe that both Pryce and Huhne had connived in lying, and that they both had known that they were breaking the law when she took his speeding points. Doubt hangs over Pryce because it is widely assumed her motives were inspired by revenge - Huhne left her for another woman in 2010 and the speeding points incident happened in 2003. 

Vicky Pryce's tear stained testimony of her reluctant abortion has prompted small pockets of debate concerning whether or not it is legal for pregnant women to be put under pressure/harassed into abortion. To use a counter example, there are sexual harassment cases, where someone sues on the basis that they were harassed into sexual relations that they would not have done, had they not been harassed. Would it be comparable to have abortion harassment cases where someone asserts they were bullied into a medical procedure?

Fr Lucie-Smith blogged about Vicky Pryce's abortion, and an anonymous reader left the following comment where she outlines in stark terms the pressure she was under from her partner, because of her job, and because the abortion clinic withheld information about the abortion - until she was actually undergoing it.

"I had an abortion for the same reason - bad timing, partner didn't want the baby and I was on a temporary contract, which would not have been renewed.
They don't tell you what will happen either. Only once I had taken the requisite pill to induce the abortion, did they then tell me that I would experience labour pains. Nor do they tell you that you will deliver a tiny foetus into a kidney dish which they put in a paper lunchbag for you to give to the doctor to examine.

Coercion, especially when it is from a combination of people, added to the lies told to you by the abortion clinics and chuck in a measure of despair and hopelessness can drive you to rationalise and justify evil.

Vicky Pryce is not the first, she won't be the last and neither should she be condemned for what she did, even though it was an abhorrent act.

This type of coercion happens every single day, a coercion that is added to by a society that mandates and encourages abortion as being a responsible choice and leaves devastated women and dead babies in its wake.

So long as one 'wants' an abortion it is legal in the UK.

One has to feel even more sorry for Vicky Pryce as she probably hasn't had the chance to embrace the Sacrament of Confession or find any healing in the severest mercy of The Lord.

If she was prepared to abort her baby under pressure, then speeding points would have seemed like small fry. Poor woman."

Exclusive Interview with Cardinal Ratzinger: the man who would become Pope

Ten years after it was first filmed, EWTN have released an encore of a historic interview that it did with the then Cardinal Ratzinger.

The pop-song campaign for Cardinal Tagle to be chosen as the next Pope

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Cardinal Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris who could become Pope. He has fought the French government on 'the fraud of gay-marriage'

The first thing that you notice about the Archbishop of Paris is that he has
impeccable manners. The quintessential French gentleman, he is softly spoken
and quick to open a door for women. During his time in Dublin at the 50th
International Eucharistic Congress in June 2012, he would take strolls around the area of the Royal Dublin Society, and he won the hearts of ordinary Dubliners who took a shine to this gentle, smiling cardinal with a strong Parisian accent. During his life as a priest he has written widely on priestly formation, and it was no surprise that at the Congress, he spoke about the formation of seminarians.

André Vingt-Trois was born in the heart of Paris in November 1942.
Vingt-Trois’ is not a typical French surname. It translates as ‘23’, which is intriguingly enigmatic, until Cardinal Vingt-Trois explains that the name was first given to one of his ancestors who was abandoned as an infant and found on the 23rd day of the month. 

In the 1950s, he attended Lycée Henri IV, which is on the Left Bank of the
River Seine. Then from the start to the finish of Vingt-Trois's seminary education, he experienced the two worlds of the Church of the 1960s. In
1962, the world of pre-Vatican II was still the norm when he entered the
Seminary of Saint-Sulpice as a fresh-faced 20-year-old. The new world after
Vatican II was beginning when he was ordained in 1969. Fr Vingt-Trois
started out as a parish priest, and then later became a professor of
sacramental and moral theology.

The first time he came to prominence was in the 1980s, as a close collaborator of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the cardinal who was of Jewish origin and a close disciple of John Paul II. The high point of the 1990s for Fr Vingt-Trois was that he was consecrated Archbishop of Tours in 1999, a post he held until 2005 when he became the Archbishop of Paris. In 2007, he was elevated to the College of Cardinals. Pope Benedict personally appointed him to serve as one of the Synod Fathers for the October 2012 for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation.

Now, in 2013, the eyes of the world are watching him because he is papabile.
British Catholics who labour against the same-sex marriage Bill have a
special reason for watching Cardinal Vingt-Trois. As France’s number one
prelate he has not held back on his criticism of the socialist government’s
attempts to legalise gay marriage. Cardinal Vingt-Trois has stepped up to
the plate by frequently appearing on French television to argue the case for
marriage between a man and a woman. Cardinal Vingt-Trois has been
interrogated and heckled by presenters but, remarkably, has kept his nerve,
appearing serene, relaxed and even smiling in the midst of hostility.
The fact that the Archbishop of Paris has withstood the media glare and
argued the case against the re-definition of marriage has strengthened the
position of French Catholics. Perhaps, were he to become pope, he would be a
great ally for British Catholics.

Moreover, he has reminded the French government that while it is
spearheading gay marriage legislation, there are rising poverty levels in France, which are keenly affecting women. 57 per cent of people living in poverty are women, compared to 50 per cent 10 years ago. Speaking in very stark terms, he challenged politicians to be less concerned with ‘the fraud of gay marriage’ and more cognisant of ‘factory closings, rising unemployment, growing insecurity of the poorest families’. At a conference for French bishops in 2012 held in Lourdes, Cardinal Vingt-Trois noted that the Left-wing politicians were focusing the public's attention on modifying marriage laws, an issue he called ‘secondary’, while not doing enough to help the  increasingly numbers of women living below the poverty line.

Repeatedly at different speaking engagements, he has urged Catholics to
mobilise against gay marriage, especially as the French parliament will vote
on it during 2013. Gay activists have pilloried him as a ‘fundamentalist’
and insisted he should not speak out about a political issue because he is a
religious leader. But they are silent about whether the French government is
spending unnecessary time and resources on gay marriage when there are
escalating numbers of people who are not sure if they have enough money to
eat. The Archbishop of Paris is called ‘homophobic’, but he lets the name-calling wash off him, insisting that ‘denouncing the fraud of same-sex marriage does not prevent us from understanding the need homosexuals feel for recognition’.

While he has a much more low-key personality himself, Cardinal Vingt-Trois
sees Blessed John Paul II as a role model and defends the legacy of the
Polish pope. Speaking on prime-time French television, a presenter coyly asked Cardinal Vingt-Trois why Pope John Paul was so loved when the fact that he was ‘so conservative’ would surely turn people off. Cardinal Vingt-Trois did not miss a beat and said frankly to the presenter that perhaps not everyone loved John Paul II for his orthodoxy, but they loved him because he inspired them with hope. Age is likely to be a major deciding factor in the next conclave. Cardinal
Vingt-Trois is 70, 15 years younger than Benedict XVI. But lest we forget,
Pope Benedict was 78 when he ascended to the See of Peter.

I wrote this for The Catholic Herald

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Why Cardinal Sandri could become Pope

The 69-year-old cardinal was born in Buenos Aires in November 1943, and is earmarked as the possible first Latin American pope. But wait: his parents, Antonio and Nella were Italian natives from Trentino, who emigrated to Argentina. Brought up in a bilingual world of Italian and Spanish, Leonardo Sandri grew up in a fusion of Argentinean and European culture.
Ordained in 1967, aged 23, he was only 27 when he was plucked from an ordinary priest’s life to become a member of the Vatican’s diplomatic service. From that point on he has spent the past 42 years, up to the present, as a diplomat of the Holy See.
He is known for being reserved and extremely careful about what he says on record, so the four decades of diplomatic discipline have left their mark. The hole in his CV is that he lacks pastoral experience, that nitty-gritty knowledge of Catholics in the pew that most priests gain through years in parish life, and his critics are quick to say that because he is quite private and hesitant when asked for detailed answers. But this could work in his favour: a closed mouth catches no flies and someone so notably discreet has earned the trust of his fellows. Also, perhaps a diplomat who works hard behind the scenes is the right mix for the instant communication age of Twitter and mobile phones, when every move he makes will be scrutinised in seconds and interpreted in myriad ways. He won’t ruffle feathers or make more enemies for Mother Church, but could work to mend divisions on the inside. He also holds a doctorate in canon law, which would come in handy for settling disputes.
He was apostolic nuncio to Venezuela from 1997 to 2000 and nuncio to Mexico in 2000. Also in 2000, he was given the third-highest Vatican post as the Vatican’s “chief of staff”, a post he held for seven years. But he didn’t get global recognition until 2005. As Blessed John Paul II’s papacy drew to a close and he was ailing to the point where speech was near impossible, Sandri read out John Paul’s final communiqués. He was the prelate who announced the heart-rending news that John Paul II had died, saying: “Our Holy Father John Paul has returned to the house of the Father...We all feel like orphans this evening.”

After Benedict XVI’s election, he did not enjoy a public climb in power and prestige. But that’s not to say he didn’t grow in experience and influence – in private. Cardinal Sandri is an expert on everything and everyone in the Roman Curia, and is characterised by his tactfulness, which means few leaks of sensitive information that make headlines. Benedict XVI
entrusted him with the role of prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, which he has managed smoothly. It has become a refrain among commentators that this post is not a “power position” in the Curia, that it’s an esoteric office where he’s not working with movers and shakers. But just because the bishops that he deals with are outside the glare of our mainstream media does not mean they are any the less powerful or that because Cardinal Sandri works with Eastern Catholics his work is any the less important. He oversees the Church in the Holy Land and for several years has appealed for Catholics around the world to raise funds and pray for the faithful in the Middle East who often live in grinding poverty and face persecution.
There is a misconception that the only prelates who know Cardinal Sandri are Rome-based and that he could lose the vote from cardinals outside the Eternal City. But this seems inaccurate because he is also a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, and is a member of the Vatican Supreme Court, the Apostolic Signatura. Since 2010 he has also been a member of the Congregation for Bishops, helping to select Latin Rite bishops. His time as apostolic nuncio in different Latin American countries means that he has intimate knowledge of the lie of the land in countries far from Rome, and knows prelates who are out of the spotlight but nonetheless allies of his. 
Cardinal Sandri is an accomplished polyglot who speaks five languages fluently, including English, French and German. This means he can converse freely with Benedict XVI in the Pope’s mother tongue. He’s not just a diplomat, then, but also a much-loved confidant of countless people, a canon lawyer, a linguist and a seasoned selector of bishops. For someone who is only 69, he has accomplished much and is eligible to participate in a papal conclave until November 2023, when he turns 80. Being comparably younger will also work in his favour. As a result of Benedict XVI citing age as a factor in his abdication cardinals are definitely scouting for a younger pope. For the Conclave of March 2013, some are of the opinion that cardinals around the world who have had quiet dealings with Cardinal Sandri will quietly vote for him.

I wrote this for The Catholic Herald. 
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