The next pope will be Christoph Schönborn, cardinal archbishop of Vienna. The principal editor of the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church, Schönborn was among Benedict’s favorite students back when the current pope was a theology professor, and he stands as one of the few high clerics to act heroically during the sexual-abuse scandal. What’s more, he urged Benedict to push into retirement the flawed Cardinal Sodano (a man whose career has been repeatedly touched by reports of financial impropriety, however much the old-priests’ network tried to shield him). Smart, personable, profoundly devout, Schönborn deserves to be pope.
Except, of course, that no one ever deserves that office beyond all human deserts. For that matter, Schönborn’s efforts came to naught, and Sodano successfully fended off retirement. He remains dean of the college of cardinals and will lead the conclave that picks the new pope in the middle of March, which, one imagines, rather weakens the 68-year-old Schönborn’s chances. “He’s simply stepped on too many toes,” one Roman cleric explained. Vatican officials will form a third of the conclave: 39 out of 117 members. And while they may respect Schönborn—it was he who, for example, led the effort to elect Benedict in the conclave of 2005—they do not trust him not to reassign them all to missionary work in the Outer Hebrides. Fire them all, God will know his own isn’t a line most of the Vatican wants to hear from someone newly elected to St. Peter’s throne.
Which means the next pope probably won’t be Christoph Schönborn, cardinal archbishop of Vienna.