Cardinal Peter Erdo, Metropolitan archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, celebrated his 70th birthday Saturday at a time talk is mounting the primate of Hungary will eventually succeed Pope Francis as leader of 1.34 billion Roman Catholics worldwide.
“The boss is not going to be around for long,” a Vatican insider who requested anonymity told Newsmax last week, referring to widespread reports that the 85-year Francis is in failing health. “At the most, he will be there until December.”
The same source told Newsmax to closely “watch Cardinal Erdo … he is the one who [the College of Cardinals, who will elect the next Pope] are beginning to talk about. And he will be great.”
Talk of Erdo as a future Pope is nothing new. But it has recently been heightened by the growing rumors that Pope Francis is in failing health or that he may retire following the consistory (meeting) Aug. 27 at which he will formally install 21 new cardinals (16 of whom are under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next Pope).
Considered a traditionalist in the mold of Popes John Paul II and Benedict, sources say Erdo shows respect to those who prefer the Mass in Latin, celebrated universally for 500 years until 1970 (and with whom Francis has created tremendous animosity by attempting to limit the Latin Mass through his document “Traditiones Custodes,” issued last July).
Erdo is fluent in Latin as well as Italian, French, English, and his native Hungarian.
His traditionalist pedigree aside, Erdo is also respected by the so-called “modernist” or “liberal” faction in the church embodied by Francis. The current Pope appointed Erdo as the “relator general” of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October of 2014. The theme of the synod was “The Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”
Where Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was a relatively unknown figure to the public and to his fellow church leaders when he became Pope Francis in 2013 (he had reportedly been out of Argentina only a handful of times), Erdo is a familiar face within the hierarchy of Roman Catholicism. Named as the youngest member of the College of Cardinals by John Paul in 2003 when he was 51, Erdo participated in the conclaves that elected Benedict in 2005 and Francis in 2013. He holds degrees in theology and canon law and is a past president of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe.
With Francis scheduled to give his 21 candidates the traditional red hat as cardinals Aug. 27, he will have appointed 62% of 132 cardinals who will elect his successor. Some Pope-watchers say his last round of cardinals — which included noted liberals such as archbishops Robert McElroy of San Diego and Arthur Roche (currently Francis’ prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship) — is designed to “pack the next conclave” and elect a successor in his own mold.
The name most frequently mentioned as Francis’ man is Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, widely considered the closest associate of the current Pope.
But conclaves are conducted in seclusion and under oaths of silence, and the next Pope is elected by secret ballot (with cardinals voting until one receives a majority and ballots burned after each ballot). Under these circumstances, the elections of three of the last four Popes — John Paul I (who died in 1978 after 30 days in the Vatican), John Paul II (the first non-Italian Pope in 500 years), and Francis (the first-ever non-European Pope) — were near-complete surprises to the world.
All that can be said is talk of a vacancy in the papacy is growing and talk of Erdo to fill it is out there.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.