Interregnum report, March 7

Leading stories on a slow news day:Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has announced that no date for the papal conclave has been established, while rumors of a Monday mass for election of the pontiff are not true. And, thefinal electing cardinal has landed in Rome;he is "Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man from Vietnam, and his arrival brings the College of Cardinals to its full count of 115.The ban on on-the-record interviews was supposed to plug leaks to the press, but John Thavis reports on the unsurprising results, noting that the Vaticans communication culture remains one of back-channel sources and speculation, as evidenced by the fact that Italian papers today were chock-full unsourced details from the cardinals closed-door meetings. (A good example from earlier this week: La Stampas piece headlined The Perfect Next Pope: A Secret Guide From Anonymous Cardinals, in which one unidentified Vatican source is described taking the time to lay out his thoughts in a letter written with an old-fashioned silver fountain pen.)Thavis says another story line (aside from the apparent lack of cohesion and focus among cardinals) may be the Curias surprise at the unexpected activism of the U.S. contingent of cardinalsand the consequent renewed attention to potential American candidates like Timothy Dolan.The new evangelizationremains high on the list of issues many say the next pope should address. But what about the churchs loosening grip on Hispanic-and Latin American Catholics?Poet and novelist Mario Vargas Llosa captures the essence of Benedict in a way few Catholics have (according to Michael Sean Winters) in his essay The Man Who Disturbs, while in our pages John Garvey notes that Benedicts resignation will affect future papacies all to the good. Also, Peter Jeffery is first up in our special multi-part report, Regime Change: Benedict & His Successor. From his piece:

[T]here are some things I think we can safely predict about the next pope. First, he will probably be the first pope ordained as a priest in the Vatican II era. He wont remember the preconciliar church, and may not even know Latin. That, frankly, worries me. Theres way too much amnesia already. Our disputes about liturgy, models of leadership, the churchs role in society would be far less painful if the most vocal partisans on every side knew more history. We need a hermeneutic of continuity now more than ever before. You cant know who you are if you dont know who you were.

On the other hand, the new pope will have grown up in a church that has always wrestled with the challenges of ecumenism, modern culture, liturgical renewal, the vocation shortage. He will know that these things are not temporary detours on our way home to the golden age: they are where we live now, and where he has lived all along. I dont know what vision he will offer of where we need to go, but I am hopeful he will recognize that we need to do some regrouping and reshuffling to face our challenges head on.

NPR put some key questions to business leaders, asking them to identify the churchs biggest challenges and how best to confront them. Among the interviewees is a Harvard MBA and former consultant who is now a priest. While Las Vegas is laying odds on who might be the next pope, papal betting is illegal in the United States since the selection process is considered an election. No such restrictions in Ireland, where one busy online site is taking wagers on everything from duration of the conclave to the name the next pope selects for himselfand even who will be the next pope to resign. One cleric notes theres a long history of betting on the pope and that often the bookmakers top candidates are in line with those identified by insiders. Some organizations are using a mix of online metrics and media buzz to make their rankingsthough one site notes the numbers are not intended as a judgment on the worthiness of each man.Finally, pursuant to an earlier post on a fake bishop mingling with the electors: tips for spotting the impostor among you.

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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