Choice of Pope Francis boosts Tagle’s future chances

Aries C. Rufo

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If Tagle is able to create a stir among his peers in the next few years, his being pope is not far-fetched

MANILA, Philippines – As the doors of the Sistine Chapel closed with words the “extra omnes” (outside all) that evicted all outsiders, Asia’s best hope for Pope, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle joined the conclave carrying the prayers of millions of Filipino-Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

If this were a race for the papacy, Tagle’s chances were seen to be increasing, with many Vatican observers describing him as a “dark horse.” Foreign media organizations were quick to tune in, sending their crews to the Philippines, joining the frenzied anticipation that the Philippines might just have its first Pope.

Better luck next time.

As the saying among Vaticanologists goes: He who enters the conclave as a papabile (possible pope) leaves the conclave a cardinal. Once again, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio proved the saying true, beating other papal frontrunners to Peter’s Throne.

“The only thing that came true among all speculations about the next pope is that (Pope) Francis is the first pope in many centuries who would come from outside Europe,” Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said in a text message.

The newly-crowned Pope, who assumes the regnal name Pope Francis, had been relegated to the background among the possible next popes, after he supposedly placed runner-up in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.


Keeping a low profile is not new for Pope Francis.

Retired Nueva Caceres Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi recalled meeting Benedict’s successor several times in the Vatican. “He is not what I can say ‘outstanding.’ He does not stand out in a crowd,” Legaspi, a member of the Dominican order, said.

Legaspi’s observation was no different from that of the new Pontiff’s biographer Sergio Rubin, who said in an interview that Bergoglio is known to take the back row during bishops’ meetings.

While he may not be conspicuous in a crowd, the new Pope, who is known to eschew the trappings of luxury like Tagle, was able to expand his connections and interaction with other cardinals after he was appointed a member of several Vatican departments, including the Congregations for Divine Worship and the Clergy.

“I think that’s how some cardinals came to know about Pope Francis. Cardinals are already familiar with him,” Legaspi observed.

Boosting Tagle’s chances

As the first non-European pope in the modern era, the election of the Buenos Aires Archbishop in a way boosts Tagle’s chances as future pope, Legaspi said. “Pope Francis has set a precedent in that sense, opening chances for non-European cardinals to be St Peter’s successor.”

But Tagle has a lot of hurdles to overcome first.

Because of his young age, and being a newly-minted cardinal at that, Tagle would have to be known to and become familiar with other cardinals, Legaspi said. Not in the way that he is actively campaigning for the post, which Tagle for sure is not aspiring for, “but for the cardinals to know him better personally.”

Arguelles agreed, saying Tagle’s limited interaction with the other cardinals is an obvious handicap. Tagle was named cardinal in November last year, and it is his first time to participate in a conclave. On the other hand, Bergoglio was already a strong contender in the conclave. “He’s new and he’s young. Not many cardinals are familiar with Cardinal Tagle,” he said.

Although Tagle was a member of the International Theological Commission in the Vatican from 1997-2002, appointed there by the late Pope John Paul II, it was not enough to leave a mark on the cardinals’ mind. In contrast, Bergoglio held several administrative positions in the Roman Curia.

Bergoglio was also twice president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, whose local equivalent is the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. It is a position that Tagle has yet to add to his resumé.

Administratively, he has a lot to work on, having only handled two dioceses – the Imus diocese and now the Archdiocese of Manila.

Tagle should also work on increasing his presence in international theological meetings to be further noticed by other cardinals. “He has not had the impact yet compared to the new Pope,” Legaspi opined.


If Tagle is able to create a stir among his peers in the next few years, the chances of his being a future pope is not far-fetched. Legaspi pointed out that with Pope Francis’ age, 76, he could just be a “transition pope, probably,” noting that Italian and other European cardinals might not have been able to come up with a common candidate.

Arguelles said Pope Francis’s election augurs well for Tagle’s chances in the future, noting that the mindset of cardinals has definitely not only gone beyond European thinking, but also beyond the Roman Curia.

He pointed out that there had been several popes who were not insiders in the powerful Roman Curia in recent years – like Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI was an official of the Roman Curia.

In the meantime, local Catholic leaders expect the new Pope to bring the Church closer to the poor, with his Latin American background. “Latin America has struggled with poverty and colonialism. He would definitely be biased towards the poor,” Legaspi said.

Arguelles said that Bergoglio, in choosing the new name Francis (after St Francis), indicates a papacy geared towards alleviating poverty. “It could also refer to St Francis Xavier, (one of the founders) of the Jesuit order, who was known for his missionary work in Japan, India, China.”

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz said he expects the new Pope to reach out to the poor. “This time, it is no longer the sheep going to the shepherd. We need a shepherd who goes to the sheep.” –

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