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'Jesus Christ with an MBA'? Cardinals' differing hopes for next pope


From left, U.S. Cardinals Theodore McCarrick, Roger Mahoney, Francis George, Donald Wuerl and Daniel Di Nardo arrive for a meeting at the Vatican on Tuesday.

By Anne Thompson, Correspondent, NBC News

ROME -- The cardinal-electors are in no rush to select the new pope.

Paraphrasing St. Thomas Aquinas, Chicago Cardinal Francis George told reporters the cardinals' meetings should be slow in deliberation -- and quick in decision making during the conclave. Many of these cardinals do not know each other: 58 percent of them were elevated by Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus. That means the majority have been cardinals eight years or less, so there hasn't been much opportunity to work together.

The meetings this week are crucial, not just to discuss the state of the church, but also to get to know each other and take the measure of the men who could be Pope.  

Despite all the speculation, there is still no frontrunner to succeed Benedict. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., says that's partly because there is no one cardinal who is personally known to all the electors.

In 2005, for example, there was one cardinal who knew everyone: Josef Ratzinger. Ratzinger was the Dean of the College of Cardinals and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith under Pope John Paul II. He was elected Pope on the fourth ballot. 

What are the cardinal-electors looking for? 

Some longtime Vatican watchers say reform of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy, is job one. Father Thomas Reese of the National Catholic Reporter says the cardinals are looking for "Jesus Christ with an MBA." They are calling for a CEO-type pope, a turnaround specialist in the mold of Lee Iacocca. Others want a great communicator, like John Paul II, who can deliver a message that  crosses ethnic and geographic boundaries. They also call for a pope who is savvy in the new ways of communicating, such as Twitter and Facebook. With the growth of the church in the developing world, there are demands that the next pope should be a non-European.

Listen long enough with American ears and you may start thinking of red cardinals and blue cardinals. But this is not a presidential election and the Catholic Church is most certainly not a democracy. Although the electors hail from diverse regions and range in age from 53 to 79, the majority of the cardinal-electors are from Europe, and their average age is 72. 

New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan told me he's looking for someone who is "An icon, a reflection of Jesus Christ."

"When we look to him, we are reminded of the Lord," Dolan said. "When we look to him, we are reminded of the beauty, the grace, the mercy of the church, so that's number one." 

Cardinal Wuerl said his number one requirement is someone who can best lead the spiritual mission of the Church. Cardinal George said he wants a pope who is aware of the "terrible wound" the clergy abuse crisis has made on the body of the church. He says the next pope must address it -- not once, but continuously.

Spiritual leader, businessman, communicator: just some of the requirements for the next Pope. And now the world waits for the voting to begin. 

The Sistine Chapel, now off-limits to tourists, is where the cardinals will vote for the 266th pontiff of the Catholic Church. But not all of the cardinal-electors have arrived yet.  A Vatican spokesperson tells NBC News that all of the 115 cardinals who will choose the next pope are expected in Rome by Thursday night. The start date for the conclave, however, hasn't yet been announced.