Definitions

papability

Papabile

Papabile /pa'pabile/ (pl. papabili) is an unofficial Italian term first coined by Vaticanologists and now used internationally in many languages to describe a cardinal of whom it is thought likely or possible that he will be elected pope. The adjective refers to a hypothetical verb "papare", that should have the meaning of "making (somebody) pope", but doesn't actually exist. A convenient English translation would be "popeable", "one worthy of the position of pope" or "possible (or likely) successor to the pope".

In some cases the Cardinals will choose a papabile candidate. Among the papabili cardinals who were elected pope are Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII), Giovanni Battista Montini (Paul VI), and Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI).

However, merely being papabile is not always a guarantee that a particular man will be elected Pope. There is a wry saying among Vaticanologists, "He who enters the conclave as Pope, leaves it as a cardinal." At times the College of Cardinals will elect a man who was not considered papabile by most Vatican watchers. In recent years those who were not considered papabile at the beginning of a conclave who had been elected Pope included Popes John XXIII, John Paul I, and John Paul II. As the cardinals age, the "list" of papabili changes as well. For instance Carlo Maria Martini was thought to be papabile a few years ago, but now he has given up his see (Milan) upon reaching 75 years of age. As a result, few cite him as papabile today. A few years ago, Pope John Paul II joked about the papabili, "The man who will succeed me as pope hasn't yet been made a cardinal." (As his successor was named a Cardinal before John Paul II became Pope, some say this proved incorrect, but others point out that John Paul may not necessarily have been referring to an immediate successor; still others suggest that jokes should not be analyzed so closely.)

The list of papabili in the 2005 papal conclave shows who was considered papabile at the death of John Paul II. As Pope Benedict XVI was one of the oldest men on the list, most men on the list remain among his potential successors, but depending on the length of Benedict's pontificate the "papability" of those on it will tend to wane as time goes on, and men formerly seen as papabile will be replaced with younger Cardinals named by Benedict. Because Benedict was the oldest man elected to the Papacy since Pope Clement XII (1730–40), speculation began almost as soon as he was elected Pope on who would succeed him.

In Italian, the word papabile is also used in different occasions, such as the election of a President or for less important roles. For example: "Mario Draghi was in the list of the papabili to become president of the Bank of Italy".

Papabili elected pope

Papabili not elected

Being seen as papabile, however, is no guarantee of election, and is sometimes seen as a handicap:

Non-papabili elected pope

Pope John Paul I actually predicted Cardinal Wojtyła — the future John Paul II — would succeed him, and Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot predicted in May 1978 that only Wojtyła could gain the support of two-thirds of the cardinal electors.

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