Chilean Cardinal Is Dark Horse Candidate
Apr 16, 2005
Only days before 115 cardinals sequester themselves in the Sistine Chapel, a new name is emerging as a dark horse contender, joining those of better-known cardinals in the endless speculation about who will be the next pope.
(Associated Press, April 15, 2005) VATICAN CITY -- Two diplomats and a veteran Italian Vatican-watcher are talking about the rising star of Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, the archbishop of Santiago, Chile.
Errazuriz, 71, is president of the Latin American Bishops' Conference, which groups all the Roman Catholic churches in the region. But he also has solid Vatican experience and a strong connection with Europe, where slightly over half the elector cardinals come from.
Marco Politi, a papal biographer and Vatican correspondent of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, wrote Friday that during a discussion among the cardinals the day before, Errazuriz's name came up as a "new entry." He didn't cite sources.
"His speech, dedicated to the situation of Catholicism in Latin America, was characterized by frankness and fervor," Politi wrote. "The cardinal described the dangers posed by sects and by secularization ... dwelt on the recovery in vocations and highlighted the continued vitality of popular religious sentiment."
Errazuriz, he wrote, is "a name to keep an eye on."
Two South American ambassadors to the Vatican told The Associated Press that they saw Errazuriz as a formidable candidate.
Not surprisingly, one of them was Chilean Ambassador Maximo Pacheco Gomez, who noted that Errazuriz was seen as a "papabile" -- the Italian term for pope material -- across the world.
"I think he's a very meritorious man who clearly has exceptional chances of succeeding St. Peter," Pacheco Gomez said, referring to the first pope.
Another South American ambassador to the Vatican, who for diplomatic reasons didn't want to be identified further, also spoke excitedly about Errazuriz's chances. He mentioned the cardinal's pastoral experience, his knowledge of the Vatican administration, his ties to Germany and his human qualities. Besides his native Spanish, Errazuriz is fluent in German, Italian and French.
Errazuriz studied theology and mathematics in Chile, Germany and Switzerland. In 1971, he moved to Germany as a member of the general council of the Schoenstatt Movement and in 1974 was elected the Marian movement's superior general. He was re-elected twice and lived in Germany for 16 years while traveling widely around the world.
He became a titular archbishop and moved to the Vatican in 1990, where for six years he developed ties to the Vatican-based Curia.
He returned to Chile in 1996 as archbishop of Valparaiso, and two years later became archbishop of Santiago, the South American country's top Catholic post.
He is seen as conservative on most doctrinal issues but progressive on social issues. In Chile, he is known for heading out in his trademark black beret to the poor outskirts of Santiago to offer Mass and words of comfort to Chile's neediest.
He strongly opposed a popular law legalizing divorce last year and challenged a plan by the government to distribute the "morning-after" contraception pill. And he has urged business leaders to do more to help the country's less fortunate.
He also has won acclaim for his efforts to promote reconciliation among Chileans still deeply divided by the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen. Agusto Pinochet.
"Having known him for a long time, I think he is a very virtuous man who has performed extraordinarily as archbishop of Santiago and as the president of the CELAM," Pacheco Gomez said, referring to the bishops' conference by its Spanish acronym.
He said he was moved by the assembly of political and religious leaders gathered for John Paul II's funeral last week.
"I saw the future pope there, without knowing who he was," Pacheco Gomez said. "I wished I had a radar, a sixth sense, to know who it was."