ROME, March 2, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On the evening of October 16, 1978, thousands of people filled the Piazza San Pietro waiting to hear the name of their new pope. But when it came, there was reportedly a muted response from puzzled Catholics who had never heard the name Karol Józef Wojtyła. At the death of Pope Paul VI, there was much speculation as to possible “front-runners” for the papacy, but at that time, there was no strong candidate as an obvious choice. 

After the close of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, five days ago, a similar situation exists again and although the world’s news media are running lists of about a dozen so-called “papabile,” the consensus is that, unlike 2005, there is no obvious successor. Despite this, little attention is being paid by media to the names and characters of the less-known cardinals, their positions and statements on various issues of interest to Catholics. The old saying, “He who goes into a Conclave a pope comes out a cardinal,” may be even more applicable than usual to this Conclave where the absence of a strong lead candidate could leave open the possibility of a “dark horse,” a repeat of the surprise announcement of 1978 that brought the world Pope John Paul II. 

With a total of 207 members in the College of Cardinals, only a small fraction are considered papabile to the outside world. According to rules set down by the late Pope John Paul II, only those cardinals under 80 years old are eligible to vote. The meetings currently under way in Rome, however, called General Congregations, are open to all cardinals and the older members of the College are valued for their experience and insights into the needs of the Church. And, at least in theory, any of them could be elected.

While the world’s media focuses on the scandals on the one side and the leading names on the other, LifeSiteNews.com will present a series of brief profiles on the “unknowns,” those who may be of interest to the cardinals themselves, but who may have received little attention in the English language press. We hope that this overview of the Cardinal Electors and some of the influential non-voting cardinals will help readers gain a clearer understanding of what is happening behind closed doors of the Conclave and its preliminary meetings.

Today, three Cardinals from Germany.

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Reinhard Cardinal Marx
Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany,
59 years old, Cardinal Elector
Created a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI

Considered a follower of Pope Benedict on matters of ecclesiastical discipline, in 2003, Marx suspended a theologian for extending to non-Catholic Christians an invitation to receive the Eucharist. Generally more to the left on political and economic issues and a supporter of a Christianised social welfare state and European Union, Cardinal Marx is the author of a book titled “Das Kapital: A Plea for Man,” a re-visioning of his namesake’s manifesto Das Kapital. 

In 2011, Marx, who is also president of the broadly liberal European Commission COMECE Bishops, said that the Catholic Church should not always be at odds with the modern world of culture and science but should engage in a “dialogue” of “teaching and learning”. The dialogue process should not stop at sensitive issues such as celibacy and sexual morality. “If condoms and celibacy constitute the main points of discussion, something can not be run properly in the spiritual communication,” the cardinal said.

Asked at the start of 2013, an election year in Germany, what expectations a man of the church would have for politics, Cardinal Marx said that the election campaigns have become overly personalised and prone to exaggerations. “I think that’s unfortunate. We as a Church will not cease to address issues of protection of life, of family, of sustainability. We advocate for a just society, the need to give everyone a chance.”

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Karl Cardinal Lehmann
Bishop of Mainz, Germany
76 years old, Cardinal Elector
Created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II 

A former chairman of the Conference of the German Bishops, Lehmann is known for his liberal attitude towards the Church’s liturgy, encouraging experimentation and “progressive” liturgical celebrations. He made headlines recently for his outspoken criticism of the decision to lift the excommunication of the traditionalist bishops of the Society of St. Pius X. He later dismissed as “nonsense” the suggestion that people might want to have access to the Sacraments in the traditional forms.

Lehmann has been described as “one of the most famous faces of Catholicism in Germany,” and is a favourite with the German media by whom he is known for his leftist leanings on politics and economics. He retired from his chairmanship of the German bishops’ confernce due to ill health in 2008, but had held the position since 1987 and had the longest term as chairman of the conference since its founding.

Under Lehmann’s leadership, the German bishops conference became known as one of the most “liberal” in the Catholic world. They have come under heavy criticism for their ownership of a publishing company that sells pornography, which they have defended, claiming it was not porn but only “erotica”. Also on Lehmann’s watch, the conference was engaged in a decades-long fight with the Vatican over its involvement in a government programme that helped women obtain abortions.

In 2004, Lehmann was strongly criticised by Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, for “fostering dissent” in the Church among theologians on an array of doctrinal matters. In 2010, Lehmann called for a “gradual transformation of the traditional gender roles of men and women”.

Most recently, Lehmann was specifically named by German bishops defending their approval of prescribing the abortifacient Morning After Pill for rape victims in Catholic hospitals. In a paper, Cardinal Lehmann had called for the use of the drug to be “reevaluated” in the light of new formulations of the pill which may only prevent conception, not implantation. These “new formulations” of the drug however, have been demonstrated to be non-existent.

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Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki
Archbishop of Berlin, Germany,
55 years old, Cardinal Elector,
Created a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI 

In an interview last July with the German weekly Die Zeit, Woelki said he “challenged” the Church to “rethink the doctrine of remarried divorcees and homosexuals.” Very much in line with the thinking of much of the German and Austrian epsicopate, Woelki argued that people who have been divorced and remarried should be allowed to receive Communion. 

On homosexuality, he said, “If I take seriously the Catechism, I cannot see homosexual relations only as a denial of natural law. I also understand that there are people who take long-term mutual responsibility, who promise fidelity and want to take care of each other. So I urge finally that we find a way to allow people to live without going against the teachings of the Church.”

He told homosexualist activists in Germany that he was ready to “dialogue” with them. “When two gay people assume mutual responsibility,” he said, “if they have a true and long term relationship, we must consider this relationship in the same way as straight a link.” 

In October 2012 Cardinal Woelki was nominated for a Respect Award by the Alliance Against Homophobia. He was praised by the group for speaking out in favor of a 'new cooperation with homosexuals in society' and officially meeting the Association for Gays and Lesbians for talks.