Spoiler alert: Pope Benedict XVI chooses his own successor! (says my crystal ball)
That's how I read yesterday's elevation of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle to the rank of cardinal. (Don't worry, the NCR's John Allen called this one a long time ago.) Tagle joined five others in receiving the red hat, but he is the only one likely to succeed Pope Benedict.
Since I have invoked NCR's Allen, I will follow his point-by-point style in supporting my claim to foreknowledge.
1. Tagle is a theologian in Ratzinger's mold, with a twist. Tagle, who has his doctorate from the Catholic University of America, has been serving on the International Theological Commission, part of Ratzinger's former Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, since 1997. Having studied in the U.S., Tagle also speaks and writes in English, a necessity for any pope-to-be. The twist? He raised the issue of the shortage of priests at the 2005 synod of Asian bishops (code for a reconsideration of celibacy) and he is an outspoken advocate of the poor (has he read liberation theologians?). He's also from a person of color from a country that has suffered two rounds of colonialism (Spain and the United States), which give him a different theological voice, even if he's speaking in the "standard" European and North American theological categories.
2. He's from the Philippines, a traditionally Catholic but outside the Christianity's Near Eastern and European cradle. It is also a developing nation as well as a completely forgotten border in the sometimes violent encounter between Christianity and Islam (some Philippine islands are majority Muslim). Tagle's election as pope would signify a significant shift in focus to the Southern part of the globe, where most Catholics live, and to Asia, where most Christians are minorities.
3. He's young! At only 55, Tagle's election would make sense. Despite his longevity, Benedict XVI is a "caretaker pope"--I even think he sees himself that way. In five years, B16 would be in his 90s and would surely resign. At 60, Tagle would be set up for a 20-year long-term papacy.
4. He's a great communicator (in the mold of John Paul II) and already has a Facebook page and a YouTube channel. It wouldn't be news if Chito (Tagle's nickname) starting tweeting.
It's hard to find anyone who says anything bad about this guy: He takes the bus, eschews clerical privilege, rides a cheap bike, and exudes simplicity, humility, and down-to-earthiness. If the College of Cardinals were to choose him as the next bishop of Rome, they would be making a choice for change indeed.