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France

As conclave begins, why the next pope won’t be French

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2013-03-12

The conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI begins on Tuesday. French contenders, unlike Italians, South Americans, Asians, or Africans, are not among the favourites for the papacy, a seat no Frenchman has held since the 14th century.

As speculation intensifies ahead of the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, beginning on Tuesday, several cardinals are widely considered favourites -- among them, Italians, South Americans, Asians, and Africans.

But none of the four French cardinals eligible to be elected are on the short list.

In other words, 68-year-old Jean-Pierre Ricard (archbishop of Bordeaux), 62-year-old Philippe Barbarin (archbishop of Lyon), 70-year-old André Vingt-Trois (archbishop of Paris), and 69-year-old Jean-Louis Tauran shouldn’t get their hopes up.

“We can’t say that the chances the next pope will be French are nil, because there could always be a surprise if the conclave lasts a long time,” Odon Vallet, a French religion and Vatican scholar, told FRANCE 24. “I’d say, rather, that the chances are slim -- even if the French cardinals are well respected at the Vatican, since the relationship with the French church started to improve when Jean-Paul II visited France in 1980.”

No French pope since the 14th century

The French contenders have clear drawbacks. “Without naming names, two of the four that are eligible are already disqualified because of their fragile health, just like half of the other eligible cardinals,” Vallet explained, adding that only André Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, is potentially “papabile”.

“Moreover, the French cardinals are only four out of the 115 who will vote for the new pope,” Vallet continued. “There will be 28 Italians, which is a significant number.”

There has not been a French pope since the 14th century; Grégoire XI was elected in 1370. “This historical absence can be explained, notably, by the difficult relationship that Church and French kings had with the papacy,” Vallet noted. “And it’s important to remember that Napoleon put a pope in prison.”

Another French religion expert and journalist, Henri Tincq, agreed that the chances of a French pope are “nearly zero”. In an article published on news site Slate, he wrote that “the French Church has a rather mediocre reputation in Rome, and [France’s] strong secular tradition is a disadvantage”.

According to Tincq, French cardinals are, above all, hampered by the fact that they are “not known internationally”.

However, France’s Catholics can take solace in the fact that a French cardinal, Jean-Louis Tauran, will have the honour of revealing the name of the next pope.

On the off chance that Tauran is elected, a different cardinal will pronounce the famous phrase, “Habemus papam!”, thus closing one chapter of papal history, and opening another. 

Date created : 2013-03-12

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