Three American Cardinals Discuss Their Part in the Upcoming Conclave

What will go into their discussions with their fellow electors, and who do they think can shepherd the Church following Pope Benedict XVI?

Cardinal Francis George (c, middle row) and Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia (r), at the 2005 conclave during the daily general congregations at the Vatican. The conclave would later elect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger pope.
Cardinal Francis George (c, middle row) and Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia (r), at the 2005 conclave during the daily general congregations at the Vatican. The conclave would later elect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger pope. (photo: 2005 Arturo Mari-Pool/Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY —Three U.S. cardinals frankly discussed the upcoming papal conclave, and in particular how they are going about selecting a candidate to be the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

At a Feb. 28 press conference at the Pontifical North American College, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston discussed the qualities needed in a new pope and what the effect of the papal resignation might have on who they ultimately choose.

Of the three cardinals, only Cardinal George has taken part in a conclave before.

Below is a summary of their responses to questions asking how they are approaching the conclave and which candidate would make the best choice as the 265th successor to St. Peter:


Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago

“It’s a decision-making. It’s a matter of choice, so you need to be well-informed. I don’t think we have [biographies], but we do have short clips on people and what they say about them in the Annuario Pontificio [Vatican yearbook] and provisional sources. And then you also have the opinions of those who know him better than you know the candidate yourself. You ask for the person’s opinions, and then you try to take that in a spirit of personal indifference — that is, without trying to figure out what’s best for you, but what’s best for the Church.

“The Pope spoke so movingly about the Church again in his last statement to us this morning. It’s always in the center of his life. He resigned because of what was best for the Church. Well, we take an oath to do what’s best for the Church when we elect someone, so you take that into prayer. You sort the information through, and you ask the Lord to help you to understand what you’ve been told, either through books or through contact, who will be the best candidate for the Church.

“I think we’ve thought about [various candidates] for some time in an implicit way. … Each of us has some kind of a list of primary candidates and others secondary and tertiary. That’s often what shapes the smaller, more intimate conversations: ‘What do you know about this candidate? And can you tell me how you would react to this person? What’s his personality?’

“The likely list isn’t winnowed yet of people who might be considered candidates. You in the press have mentioned candidates, and all of them that I’ve seen, unlike last time, are in fact good candidates, in my own mind at least. Last time, some of the people mentioned I thought: ‘I don’t think that’s a real candidate.’ This time I really thought, ‘Oh, okay. That makes sense.’ So you’ve done your work for us — thank you!

“I would hope the Holy Spirit would guide us. … None of us here are representing people; we are representing the faith, the apostolic faith that unites us to Christ, and that’s our first concern: that our faith be strengthened and passed on; and then our people will be well cared for, no matter where in the world they might be.”


Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston

"I plan to intensify praying about this. It became very obvious to me this morning when the Holy Father said he promised his obedience to whoever his successor is. That requires a great deal of prayer and help from the Holy Spirit in my mind; and, personally, I have to work this through, not just by reading up on candidates, but refreshing my mind on the whole point of the See of Peter and what that means in the life of the Church and the life of the faith, and probably some talking with some of the other candidates.

“This is my first conclave, so I’m also going to have to admit that I’m going to have to learn what it is we do exactly, in terms of number of steps that you have to take. There are all kinds of formalities. Some you have to study and learn about; some you have to learn from the other cardinals.

“I think we’ve considered names, but part of this is just learning. Out of that, what’s needed for the See of St. Peter begins to emerge.

“I don’t know, but I presume at the general congregations we’re looking to hear from various people from various parts of the world. To my mind, it’s going to be illuminating for me; so, though you may have someone in mind, at the same time, every day that I’ve been here, some name has popped up.

“[People] are looking for someone who is Peter. They’re looking for a shepherd, someone who can feed the sheep, give them good teaching and also encouragement. … [They’re looking for someone who] teaches well and communicates well."


Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston

“This is the first time I’ve been in a conclave, and it could very well be the only time in my life that I’ll do this. I consider it one of the most important activities that I’ll be engaged in as a priest and as a cardinal.

“As soon as the Holy Father made the announcement, I have been bringing this to prayer: to ask the Holy Spirit’s help to serve God’s will in this. I try to read as much about the cardinals, using the Internet a lot.

“The discussions we will have in the congregations will be the most important for intellectual preparation that we have. But, certainly, our spiritual preparation has already begun. Our people back home and people throughout the world are praying for this event, that we will be guided to be able to choose the very best person to lead the Church — the one who God wants, not who would be good for me or anyone else, but the one who God wants to be our Holy Father.

“He must be a man of deep faith; someone who can communicate the faith is important. People are anxious to have someone who’s able to touch the hearts of someone — particularly of our young people — and to carry on this New Evangelization by inspiring people to come back to the faith if they’ve stepped away. So I think his own personal holiness and ability to communicate the faith and to lead us as a Church is what people are looking for.

“I’m comforted there are obvious candidates who would be confident popes. You’re faced with a number of choices, but I don’t think any of us have gone in thinking, 'This is who I would vote for.' We’re still in a process of discernment and prayer and trying to learn more. But, certainly, there are some wonderful candidates whom we all recognize for their talent, goodness and confidence.”


Resignation’s Effect

The three cardinal electors were also asked a question about Benedict XVI’s resignation and what effect that might have on the conclave.

Cardinal George said questions about nationality or age are “secondary, not determinative.” But he said the pope’s resignation “could have some influence on the understanding of the office itself for office holder and office in general, but it is too soon to tell.”

Cardinal O’Malley noted that people are “living longer and have diminished energy.” As the task of being pope of the Church is an extraordinarily demanding job, “so it could result in the conclave choosing a younger man,” he said. But he added that they may say: “'Well, we can choose an older man, because, if he gets sick and is unable to do it, he would be able to resign.' So very difficult to forecast.”

Cardinal DiNardo noted that the resignation has just happened and is a new reality in modern times. He said, “We need to be patient; the Church is patient.” He added: “There is an opening now that wasn’t there before, but I’m not so sure in the long term it’ll have the effect that some think.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.