Cardinal Tagle — will he succeed Pope Francis?

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (pic) – fast-emerging as a frontrunner to succeed Pope Francis, as rumours grow about a looming papal resignation – may have just seen his chances increase further still.

Sep 17, 2022


Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (pic) – fast-emerging as a frontrunner to succeed Pope Francis, as rumours grow about a looming papal resignation – may have just seen his chances increase further still. The Filipino prelate has now been named by Pope Francis as special envoy for the forthcoming Asian Bishops’ Conference in Thailand, where he will represent the pontiff. Cardinal Tagle will also preside over the closing Mass. Dubbed the “Asian Francis”, Tagle has already been given 5/1 odds of succeeding the Pope, having been trusted by the latter to lead the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples in 2019.

Tagle is seen as representing the Church’s progressive wing, having criticised previously “harsh words” against LGBT Catholics. A guest at the recent Lambeth Conference, Tagle offered a liberal message, asking whether Christians in the diaspora “still feel like journeyers, or temporary settlers, or guests?” Churches, he said, must be hospitable to all, because “ethnic and cultural issues ruin the spiritual home”, and “populist” attitudes were threatening the proper meaning of the word “people”. He added: “We can be so established in our ways and culture that we start behaving like owners of lands, peoples, and ideas.”

The envoy role is yet another indication of the faith Pope Francis has placed in Tagle, who is now one of three leading contenders to succeed the pontiff should he announce his retirement. Also in that category are the Hungarian prelate, Cardinal Péter Erd?, and the Italian prelate, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi. Tagle likely has the edge over Zuppi, given the changing demographics of the Church and the sense an Italian may not be as able to reach a global audience. He also benefits from being an Anglophone, while the make-up of the College of Cardinals – an increasingly non-European affair and made up primarily of Francis appointees – could play to Tagle’s advantage as well.

On August 27, cardinals from around the world gathered at the Vatican for a surprisingly-timed consistory where 20 prelates joined the College of Cardinals, with 16 under 80 and qualified to select the next pontiff. Aside from a major legacy-building exercise by Pope Francis (83 of the 132 cardinal electors have been chosen by him) – perhaps ensuring a successor in his image – this was the first time many cardinals got to meet in person, offering the chance to sound out would-be successors. The Pope, meanwhile, has done little to put rumours of resignation to bed – following perhaps the precedent set by Benedict XVI – recently saying that popes who resign are humble.

Other candidates to succeed the Pope could include the Dutch conservative, Cardinal Wim Eijk, as well as compromise candidate, Cardinal Mario Grech from Malta. Also in the running are liberal Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (a man who once said same-sex blessings “will not be denied”); and another Italian, the conservative Cardinal Angelo Scola (a man who narrowly missed out last time, but who may also be perceived to be unable to reach out to a global Catholic audience).

Meanwhile, there is the outside chance of an African pontiff, given that Cardinal Peter Turkson and Cardinal Robert Sarah represent – like Tagle – the changing face of the Church, as well as the possibility of an American pope, or even a British pontiff.


But alongside Erd? and Zuppi, Tagle is surely the one to watch, a progressive continuity candidate, who points – unlike Zuppi – to the Church’s changing demographics. Francis has again demonstrated faith in the Filipino, who will become a visible leader of the Church as he attends the conference in Thailand.

Though Pope Francis set the precedent for a non-European pope, the College of Cardinals is perhaps not yet ready to elect an African or an American, it is the Filipino who could be in pole position, exemplifying the changing face of the Church as it pivots towards the Global South. Meanwhile, a College of Cardinals more reflective of Francis’ positions is more likely perhaps to back a continuity candidate and one who, like them, reflects the increasing diversity of the Church hierarchy and wider membership. --The Catholic Herald

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