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Cardinals attend the Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass at St Peter's Basilica before they enter the 2013 conclave that elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope FrancisPhoto by Franco Origlia / Getty Images

July 13, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – In an interview graciously granted to LifeSiteNews, Rome Correspondent and author Edward Pentin explains the history of his new book The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates (published by Sophia Press) which presents the profiles of 19 potential candidates for the next conclave. 

The reason for this book is to inform the members of the conclave of the biographies and positions of the most probable candidates, but also to inform the Catholic world about them.

Discussing particular candidates, Pentin states that he does not believe someone like Cardinal Christoph Schönborn would be elected, and points on the more conservative side to Cardinals Robert Sarah, Peter Erdo, Malcolm Ranjith, and Raymond Burke. About Burke, Pentin adds: “Although many think Cardinal Burke is highly unlikely to be elected, I think there is such unease with this pontificate among a large number of cardinals that it could lead to some surprises on the more orthodox side.”


For the progressive side, Pentin would see in Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Luis Antonio Tagle, and Matteo Zuppi the most likely candidates.

With regards to the duties of a future Pope, Edward Pentin believes that “countless new challenges will certainly affect the next Pope considerably, and a frank assessment of Vatican II could be one of them, certainly if a more orthodox leaning pope were elected.”

He concludes with the words that “it’s important to pray for the right candidate at a conclave and which is why I hope this book will give readers the conviction to petition the Lord for the one most suitable to lead the Church in our tumultuous times.”

Father Gerald Murray of EWTN’s “Papal Posse” commented on this new book, remembering his presence in Rome during the 2013 conclave: “How I wish I had a book like this back then! Edward Pentin provides us with thoroughly researched background reports on 19 cardinals who will likely be in serious consideration at the next conclave. Accurate information about the pastoral and doctrinal approaches of these cardinals, set forth here with carefully footnoted references, will assist their fellow cardinals, and all interested observers, in making well informed judgments about these men, one of whom could become the next Pope.”

Please see here the full interview with Edward Pentin:

LifeSite: How did this come book come about? Why do you think such a book would be helpful?

The book derives from the fact that at a conclave, it’s usually not just the public who have little or no knowledge of a prospective pope. Perhaps, surprisingly, neither do the cardinals who are voting for him. At the last conclave in 2013, one cardinal memorably said he found the process confusing and others complained about a dearth of information on who they were voting for. Often they had to rely on others’ recommendations which were not always reliable. This problem has been made more acute since Pope Francis ceased holding pre-consistory meetings of the Sacred College of Cardinals in 2016. The event was traditionally a good opportunity for cardinals to meet and get to know one another. This book is therefore primarily aimed at equipping cardinals so they know who to vote for – or not vote for — as the case may be. But it’s also meant as a resource for the faithful, to give them a detailed knowledge of some of the cardinals most likely to be elected Pope and therefore also to know who to pray for.

How did you come to pick these 19 cardinals and not others?

We chose them because we feel they have the greatest chance of being elected Pope given their backgrounds, reputations for leadership, sanctity, governance, teaching, and general favorability rankings in the Church. Of course as the old Roman saying goes, “Chi entra papa in conclave, ne esce cardinale” (whoever enters a conclave a pope, leaves it as a cardinal), so it’s naturally possible the next pope will be none of these — perhaps even the 20th, the one we did not include! But even if he is not chosen from these 19, we hope the book will have helped the cardinals in their discernment process.  

Could you tell us more about the team of scholars that assisted you with this book?

We assigned fourteen scholars in total to each of the 19 cardinals, finding those who were of the same nationality of the relevant cardinal or knew the language of the candidate. Six of them were Americans. We also had a team of professional editors and proof readers. I should say that most of the cardinals had been researched by the time I came on board and I helped fill in some gaps. For this reason, this is really a collaborative effort even though my name appears on the front, and my gratitude goes to the backers, researchers and editors who did much of the heavy lifting to make this book possible.  

What are for you the most important characteristics for a good pope?

In the book’s introduction is a guide on what cardinals should look for in choosing a good Pope, drawing on a treatise of 12th century St. Bernard of Clairvaux called On Consideration on how to be a saintly pope. This was later summarized by Benedict XIV (1740-58). Some of the characteristics that stood out to me were that a prospective pope must edify the Church, pray, and teach the people. Above all the other virtues, he must cultivate humility. Also important is that a pope “should have friends known for their goodness” and “choose cardinals from the men most eminent in learning and virtue, ones who are good and well-qualified pastors.” And naturally they should be an instrument of unity — Peter’s primary task. I prefer not to say more as I’m merely a reporter, and the book itself doesn’t tell the reader which candidate might make a good pope either. Rather it lays out all the facts and lets the reader decide. 

Does one or several of your cardinal candidates have those characteristics that would make him a good candidate?

None of them are perfect of course, and none have precisely what it takes to be Pope, but then no pope ever has. Peter was an uneducated fisherman — impulsive, ambitious, self-assertive, and imprudent who denied Christ three times before being transformed into the charismatic first pope that he became. From these 19 papabili I’d say one or two potentially have what it takes to be saintly great popes. But as St. Peter and many of his successors have shown, the grace of the office can make the man.  

In researching the backgrounds of these cardinals, could you tell us two or three most striking findings – either especially positive or especially shocking?

The book reveals a number of interesting elements of these cardinals, helping to give a clear picture of their qualities, strengths and weaknesses related to their offices as bishop: to sanctify, govern and teach. But I’d rather let the reader discover these qualities for themselves as taking them out of context might give a skewed image of the candidate. 

Whom would you name as the cardinals on the progressive side with most chances for being elected pope in a future conclave?

Cardinals Luis Antonio Tagle, Pietro Parolin, and Matteo Zuppi.

And who do you think on the more orthodox side might have the best chances for being elected? Or do they, in light of Pope Francis' forming of a new College of Cardinals, have very little chance altogether?

Cardinals Robert Sarah, Peter Erdo, Malcolm Ranjith and Raymond Burke. Although many think Cardinal Burke is highly unlikely to be elected, I think there is such unease with this pontificate among a large number of cardinals that it could lead to some surprises on the more orthodox side.  

Would you agree with John Allen who recently at a Sophia Press panel discussion of this book said that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn could very well be a compromise candidate for both sides of the spectrum?

I can see John’s point but I think Cardinal Schönborn is no longer seen as the champion of orthodoxy that he used to be, certainly in the US and Europe. His reputation regarding the liturgy is particularly problematic for him, his judgement has been questioned, and he’s been in poor health. I think his time may have passed, although many thought that of Jorge Mario Bergoglio too! 

What would be your guess how soon we can expect a new conclave to happen? Do you think Pope Francis would ever retire like Pope Benedict XVI?

The date is impossible to predict of course, but a number of theories have circulated for years, including that Pope Francis will resign once Benedict dies. Some say Francis is hanging on by a thread and has little support inside the Vatican where morale is generally extremely low. Others say that he continues to relish being Pope, is in good health, and wishes to see his vision for reform through, meaning his pontificate could last many years more.  

What do you think the main mission would be for a future pope – not only in light of some of the decisions Pope Francis has taken in these last years, but also in light of the controversies that exist since the Second Vatican Council? How could a future Pope guide the Church through these very tumultuous times inside and outside the Church?

Countless new challenges will certainly affect the next Pope considerably, and a frank assessment of Vatican II could be one of them, certainly if a more orthodox leaning pope were elected. Connected with this are enormous spiritual battles that are taking place in the world today, battles that require true papal leadership as they increase, both inside and outside the Church. This is why it’s important to pray for the right candidate at a conclave and which is why I hope this book will give readers the conviction to petition the Lord for the one most suitable to lead the Church in our tumultuous times.

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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.


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