CNN analyst sees Manila archbishop a ‘papal contender’


Imus Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle

MANILA, Philippines—Habemus papam (We have a pope)?

He has not even been officially installed, but new Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle has already been tagged as a “papal contender” by a respected international Vatican watcher.

Writing in his blog, CNN Senior Vatican analyst John Allen Jr. tagged the 54-year-old prelate as a “new papal contender,” describing Tagle as “a rising star in the Asian Church” and his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI deserved “to be on the global Catholic radar screen.”

“The big news from the Philippines has been the October 13 appointment of Luis Antonio Tagle as the new Archbishop of Manila, putting him in line to become a cardinal the next time Benedict XVI hosts a consistory,” Allen said in his blog at the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) website.

“Youthfulness aside, a striking number of people who know Tagle believe that this is a guy who, one day, could be pope,” Allen said.

“Even if that doesn’t pan out, Tagle is destined to be an important face and voice for the burgeoning Catholic population in Asia and the entire developing world, and that makes him someone worth getting to know,” he added.

Allen notes that Tagle was known for his humility, humor, warmth, simplicity, ability to explain complex theological ideas in layman’s terms, while not being afraid to raise questions about controversial church issues.

“Although a loyal churchman, Tagle is unafraid to raise tough questions (at the 2005 synod, he pointedly said the church must confront the priest shortage, which struck some as a way of hinting at flexibility on celibacy) or to challenge what he considers abuses (some of the toughest language you’ll ever find denouncing clerical arrogance and privilege is in his writings),” Allen said.

During that 2005 synod of bishops in Rome, Tagle raised his concerns about the shortage of priests during Vatican’s own press conference where he was one of the presenters.

“Theologically and politically, Tagle comes off as balanced. He’s taken strong positions against a proposed ‘Reproductive Health’ bill in the Philippines, which includes promotion of birth control. Yet his towering social concern is defense of the poor, and he’s also got a strong environmental streak,” Allen said.

He described Tagle as a “gifted communicator, making him a highly sought-after speaker and media personality.”

“He drew rave reviews for his performance at a 2008 International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, where observers say he brought an entire stadium to tears,” Allen said.

“Vatican-watchers also rated him among the most impressive contributors to both the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist and the 2008 Synod on the Word of God. He’s also a very 21st century prelate—he hosts a program on YouTube and he’s got his own Facebook page,” he added.

Allen has noted that while Tagle, at 54, is “in church terms…still a kid,” the new shepherd of Manila’s 2.7 million Catholics was already seen as “a rising star in the Asian Church.”

“The story goes that back in the mid-1990s, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger introduced Tagle to Pope John Paul II as a new member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, Ratzinger jokingly assured the pope that the youthful-seeming Filipino had, in fact, received his first communion,” Allen said.

“(After theological studies abroad, Tagle) quickly came to be seen as a rising star in the Asian church, explaining his appointment in 1997 to the Vatican’s main doctrinal advisory body,” he added.

ARCHBISHOP TAGLE. A rising star in Asian Church is known to dine with beggars. INQUIRER PHOTO

Fr. Joseph Komonchak, one of the leading Catholic theologians in the US and Tagle’s doctoral teacher at the Catholic University of America, said Tagle could have become the “best theologian” in Asia if he had not been appointed bishop.

“He was one of the best students I had in over 40 years of teaching, but as intelligent and diligent as he was, he was perhaps better known and loved by his professors and by his fellow students for the simplicity and holiness of his life,” Komonchak said in the blog of Commonweal magazine.

“He could have become the best theologian in the Philippines, or even in all of Asia, if he had been given the opportunity, but in his country the demands for the kind of teaching and preaching that he can offer are so many that a man of his talents will never have much time for reading and writing,” he added.

Allen and Komonchak also touched on Tagle’s association with the controversial Bologna-based “History of Vatican II” project, which has been criticized by conservative Catholics — including in the Vatican’s own newspaper L’Osservatore Romano — for providing a “liberal” interpretation of the historic Second Vatican Council.

“Tagle served for 15 years on the editorial board of the Bologna-based ‘History of Vatican II’ project founded by Giuseppe Alberigo, criticized by some conservatives for an overly progressive reading of the council,” Allen said.

Komonchak said Tagle wrote the chapter on “Black Week” or the last week of the third session of the Council in 1964. It came out in volume four of the five-volume “History of Vatican II.”

Tagle’s association with this “liberal” Catholic project makes his appointment more intriguing since the Pope is known for his conservative views on Catholic doctrine.

“It is good to know that such an association is not enough to make oneself entirely persona non grata in the Vatican. I suspect that it was (Tagle’s) work on the International Theological Commission that impressed the present Pope,” Komonchak said.

Allen said Alberto Melloni, an Italian academic and writer who has been directing the Bologna project, called Tagle “a thinker of real value” whose dissertation represented an important chapter in the history of Vatican II, and someone who’s “talented and serious.”

“Back in the Philippines, it would be a gross understatement to say that Tagle, who goes by the nickname Chito,’ is simply well-liked. In truth, most Filipino Catholics I know love the guy — for his warmth and humor, for his simplicity (he routinely eschews clerical dress), for his ability to express complex ideas in attractive and understandable argot, for his balance and openness, and for his lack of ego,” Allen said.

“He actually told a Catholic radio station in the Philippines this week that when he first heard he was going to Manila, he didn’t tell anybody, because ‘I thought maybe the pope would change his mind,'” he added.

Allen noted that one Filipino commentator noted Tagle as having “a theologian’s mind, a musician’s soul and a pastor’s heart.”

“In the Imus diocese, Tagle was famous for not owning a car and taking the bus to work every day, describing it as a way to combat the isolation that sometimes comes with high office,” Allen said.

“He was also known for inviting poor beggars outside the cathedral to come in and eat with him; one woman was quoted this week describing a time she went looking for her blind, out-of-work, alcoholic husband, suspecting she might track him down in a local bar, only to find that he was lunching with the bishop,” he added.

Allen added that another “typical story” happened after Tagle arrived in Imus when a small chapel located “in a run-down neighborhood was waiting for a priest to say Mass for a group mostly made up of day laborers at around 4 a.m.”

“Eventually a youngish cleric showed up on a cheap bicycle, wearing simple clothes and ready to start the Mass. An astonished member of the congregation realized it was the new bishop, and apologized that they hadn’t prepared a better welcome,” Allen said.

“Tagle said it was no problem; he got word late the night before that the priest was sick, and decided to say the Mass himself,” he added.

Being among the top four Catholic countries in the world in terms of population, the Philippines could be considered as a “Catholic superpower” and one of the nations destined to be “pace-setters in the church of the 21st century,” Allen said.

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  • Anonymous

    …should he be a cardinal first?…be reminded by the old saying during a papal selection…”he who enters the conclave as a pope, comes out as a cardinal”…this premature opinion may have doomed his chances…

  • Lloydie Vuitton

    He is not even YET a Cardinal and people are already casting lots and placing bets that he could become Pope.

    Remember the Golden words of History verified through the centuries——HE WHO ENTERS THE CONCLAVE AS POPE, COMES OUT AS A CARDINAL.

    this article jinxes the whole thing.

  • Saul

    wag naman sana pilipino maging pope..sigurado lalong makikialam simbahan sa gobyerno..lugmok lalo tayo nito..

  • EC

    If Tagle ever become a pope, his first priority should be ridding deep-seated superstitious beliefs among so-called devout Catholics here. And I’m not talking only about uneducated Filipinos.

    • Amega Amigo

      you are right. the light of the church should be to eradicate the superstition of the filipinos even if it means cleaning age old superstitious beliefs that have made their way to catholic belief. 

  • Nilo Abaya

    Paano na si Bishop Soc Villegas. We were rooting for him. Protege siya ni Cardinal Sin. This means tapos na ang role ng bishops na maging activists. At talaga naman silang naging corrupt na under GMA.

    • Anonymous

      di naman dahil sa protege ka ni cardinal sin e ikaw lang ang may karapatang maging archbishop ng manila. i  believe that bishop tagle is so deserving of his appointment. maganda din ang kanyang mga credentials. and if you read the article well may pagka-liberal thinking din siya, di ko lang maintindihan yung sinabi mong–“This means tapos na ang role ng bishops na maging activists. At talaga naman silang naging corrupt na under GMA”–anong connect nito?

  • Pepe Pilar

    dapat lang siguro nating tanggapin na merong dalawang klase ng tao sa mundo — the religious and the free-thinker. 

    conflict arises everytime they try to attack each other.

    being religioius is like a talent. either you have it or you don’t. or a skill. like being left-handed. and if you start trying to attack my being left-handed, doon nag-uumpisa ang conflict, deep-seated hatred and bigotry.

    i’m a free-thinker and have a deep-seated hatred of talking snakes, the dead rising from the tomb on the third day and the Church’s mind-boggling hypocrisy but i try to contain it (my hatred).

  • Anonymous

    If one is really sincere about one’s role in the church, no one would want to be pope. It is something that no one would want but one would take on when called upon. Being responsible for a flock of more than 1 billion is just mind-boggling. Just imagine the weight on the shoulders of Pope Benedict XVI. Even, Bp. Tagle said, he did not wanted to announce it (being the new Archbishop of Manila) yet hoping that Pope Benedict changed his mind.

  • Anonymous

    This CNN analyst has a hidden agenda by saying that Bishop Tagle has a good chance of being a future pope. Cardinals are mostly white folks and they have their own biases and prejudices. After all, they are also human beings. It’s impossible that those white cardinals will support a non-white.

    • Lloydie Vuitton

      Not really. Even white people have dislikes among themselves.

      The qualifications cardinals look for in a future Pope is the ability to maintain relationships with various embassies of the world, create ambassadors in many nations, and spread the Catholic faith to its fullest extent. In the last 100 years, Popes have been known to speak many various languages, be proficient in Hebrew & Greek history and theology, and most importantly, be able to make good doctrinal decisions in a wise and truly Catholic orientation.

      To say that it is just based on color of skin and race is really immature of you, and very narrow-minded.

  • Anonymous

    akala ko si De Dios?

  • Choi Estiva

    Praying we’ll have a future pope in our midst. For now, he’s showing papal character for the unassuming ways, the care and concern he has done to the least of our brethren in his bishopric. Tomorrow, we’ll have an emerging real citizen of the world of international caliber. On to Vatican. Mabuhay po kayo Archbishop-Cardinal -Pope Chito T.!!

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