The country’s very own Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle may be one of the frontrunners to succeed Pope Francis—a move that will make waves in the Church.

The Catholic Church has been abuzz with speculations that Pope Francis may be resigning. This came after his statement to reporters that he can no longer travel like he once did and may one day have to retire. What’s more, he repeated a phrase that “the door is open” and that there’s nothing wrong with a Pope stepping down “It’s not strange. It’s not a catastrophe. You can change the Pope,” he said.

With that, a search for his possible successor is underway and whoever that may be will say a lot about the Church’s direction moving forward.

Two candidates are being considered for this magnanimous role. On one end, there’s Cardinal Erdo, a conservative canon law expert from Hungary, a country on the frontline of the European culture war. And from the other spectrum, there’s the Philippines’ very own Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle—a progressive thinker from a developing country who is in turn hailed by liberals.

Cardinal Tagle, a Voice for the Liberals

East or West, liberal or conservative, who will it be? With two schools of thought in play, the final decision will influence the Church’s new direction. Should the successor be Hungary’s Cardinal Erdo, his appointment would send a powerful message about the direction the Church would be taking. On the other hand, Cardinal Tagle’s approach sits well with the Church’s changing demographics.

Known for his liberal views, Cardinal Tagle has been involved in many social issues in the Philippines while foremost emphasizing the need to help the poor. Dubbed the “Asian Francis,” he was appointed by Pope Francis to lead the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 2019. Moreover, his approach to the Church’s teachings has been more progressive, as he has criticized the Catholic Church for using “harsh words” to describe the LGBTQIA+ community.

However, this may not be the victory that liberals look for, as Cardinal Tagle himself hails from a conservative country. And this may damage his liberal credentials as a successor to the current Pope. Moreover, despite the College of Cardinals becoming less European in nature, conservatism is still the driving force of the Church in the Global South. The perception towards LGBTQIA+ issues, for example, leans more on the traditionalist side.

But while there are many candidates for the next Pope—Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Dutch Cardinal Wim Eijk, Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, or Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, for example—the Pope is said to favor Cardinal Tagle or Italian Cardinal and Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

“Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines has been given 5/1 odds of being elected the next pope by British bookmakers OLBG,” Newsweek writes. “Also highly favored to replace Francis is Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, who has been given odds of 6/1.” However, Cardinal Turkson is a noted conservative who offered his resignation as head of a Vatican department last year, as he was fed up with internal divisions.

A Worthy Contender

Conservatives, though, have reason to rejoice, as Cardinal Erdo may be emerging as a frontrunner. According to the Chief Political Correspondent for Newsmax, John Gizzi, “talks of Erdő as a future Pope is nothing new.” He adds that one Vatican insider told Newsmax the current Pope “is not going to be around for long”—with the ultimatum that “at the most, he will be there until December.”

“Watch Cardinal Erdo,” the source shares. “… he is the one who [the College of Cardinals, who will elect the next Pope] are beginning to talk about.”

While the Hungarian cleric is considered a traditionalist who shows respect to those who prefer Latin Masses, it too has respect for liberals—making it a unifying force within the Church. And this unified mindset comes in handy, especially if and when Pope Francis, in his retirement, becomes a guiding star for liberals in the event of a conservative successor.

“Can a country, a continent, be called a Christian? I wouldn’t emphasize whiteness as a Catholic, though”, he adds in an interview with Valasz OnLine in 2019, implying that he could reach across the isles to liberals, despite coming from a conservative 80%-dominated Christian country.

Conservative vs Liberal

“Francis and Orbán represent two approaches to what Christian politics should look like in the modern world. Among all the governments of Europe, Orbán is probably the leading standard-bearer for what you might call ‘civilizationism’,” writes Niall Gooch for UnHerd. “He is concerned with the persistence and survival of a particular people, and a particular culture, in a particular place—primarily the Hungarians, but also Europe more widely.”

“[The Pope] draws on other streams in Christian political thought,” he adds. “As an Argentinian Jesuit, the type of villain that looms large in his mental furniture is the aggressive and chauvinistic nationalist leader, who cemented his own power with cynical attacks on foreigners and the enemy within.”

According to the writer, in the Pope’s eyes, “a Christian country and culture are not one preoccupied with its own integrity and its own survival—but one which makes an unshakeable political imperative from the divine commands to welcome the stranger and to recognize all men as brothers.”

Overall, the contest between Cardinal Erdo and Cardinal Tagle on who will be the next pope puts the Church at crossroads—not just between liberals and conservatives, but also between the forces of traditionalism in Europe (the heart of Catholicism) and the changing face of faith, which is focused more on the developing world despite its conservative outlook in some issues.

“If symbolism matters, then Erdő vs. Tagle would be a contest not just of ideas but of perception and identity,” writes The Catholic Herald.

Despite all these speculations, it is still unclear whether Pope Francis plans to announce his retirement. In the event he does, though, this would make him the second consecutive pope to resign voluntarily. Regardless though, it is certain that whoever is chosen as his successor will definitely make a tremendous impact on the Catholic Church—one that boasts an impressive 1.3 billion followers around the globe. 


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