Just How Close Is Cardinal Tagle to Becoming the Next Pope?


As the most important Cardinal that Asia has ever had, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle's path to the papacy has become clearer than ever, according to a report by the Catholic Herald. Said to be in his way, however, is Hungary’s Cardinal Peter Erdo. Still, there are a lot of things that need to happen first before either of them gets elected. Although some recent developments might have just set things in motion.

Is Pope Francis stepping down?


There has been renewed speculation about the future of the papacy now that Pope Francis himself admitted on a trip to Canada in July that he must "slow down." It also didn't help that he had to cancel a few visits along the way due to health concerns.

“I think that at my age and with this limitation, I have to save myself a little bit to be able to serve the Church. Or, alternatively, to think about the possibility of stepping aside," he told reporters during the six-day visit to the North American country.


Rumors of the 85-year-old's resignation started to circulate after he suffered a small fracture on his knee back in May. He was wheelchair-bound for over a month. Prior to that, the pontiff had also been walking with a cane for months.

Pope Francis, however, clarified that he doesn't plan on stepping down anytime soon. If we look back at the papacy's history, too, the chances he does so are unlikely.

Papal abdication is rare. In the Church's entire history, out of roughly 260 popes since St. Peter, there have only been about six (the exact figure is still disputed) popes who have stepped down.

Pope Marcellinus in 308 and Pope Liberius in 366 each stepped down with no apparent reason. Pope Benedict IX in 1045 was the first pope who clearly resigned. His departure was scandalous because it was said to have been a business deal with Archpriest John Gratain. Benedict was reinstated by the king and would be deposed soon after only to be reinstated and leave again.

In 1294, Pope Celestine V famously wrote a decree that allowed popes to resign. After just five months in the papacy, he abdicated. The last pontiff to resign was Pope Benedict XVI's in 2013, which came as a shock to the Church at the time as it was the first papal retirement in about 600 years. He cited his declining health as his primary reason.

It is worth noting that Pope Francis is the same age as Pope Benedict when he resigned.


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Tagle's rise through the ranks

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Dubbed as the "Asian Francis," Cardinal Tagle was appointed to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 2019. The congregation is one of the highest posts in the Roman Curia. Next to the papacy, the "Red Pope" is considered the second-most important position in the Vatican. Tagle is one of only 11 cardinal-bishops of the Latin rite worldwide “who are consulted by the Pope anytime individually or as a group."

In 2020, the pope elevated Cardinal Tagle to Cardinal Bishop, which means that he is the highest-ranked cardinal of the Church. He also happens to be the first cardinal of Asian descent to be named such. Pope Francis then appointed the former Archbishop of Manila to the Vatican Central Bank in 2021 and then to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments earlier this year.


Much like Pope Francis, Tagle is a champion of the poor and of what analysts say are more progressive values. Tagle, for instance, has been an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community in the Philippines. Similar to the pontiff, the cardinal has also been known to speak out for marginalized, excluded, and vulnerable sectors, like migrants and refugees.

Cardinal Tagle seems to be also popular among his fellow cardinals. In 2015, Tagle had even been named the global leader for Caritas Internationalis, which is the Church's grassroots global charity group. As of 2022, he was the president of the confederation.

His experience with the Roman Curia is very telling, as well. Historically, elected papabiles have worked at the Vatican's governing body.

What would Cardinal Tagle's papacy mean for the Catholic Church?


The Catholic Church is at a crossroads right now between conservative canon and a more liberal stance, the report pointed out. This is what the race between Cardinal Peter Erdo and Cardinal presents.

Newsmax Chief Political Correspondent John Gizzi wrote that the “talk of Erdo as a future Pope is nothing new." He added that one Vatican insider had told Newsmax that the current Pope “is not going to be around for long” and that, as early as now, the College of Cardinals is already looking at Erdo.

Cardinal Erdo of Hungary is a traditionalist who is known as a a conservative canon law expert. He was also appointed by Pope Francis as the "relator general" of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Erdo, notably, has the blessing of liberals, as well. He is seen as a potentially "unifying" force within the Church.

A Tagle papacy, on the other hand, would mean a shift in the Church's focus to the global south.

Pope Francis' appointment kickstarted a de-Europeanization of sorts of the Vatican. Over the years, the Church has turned to Asian, African, and Oceanic regions for more support. Pope Francis, who is pegged as a reformist, has also looked to reformist cardinals for help, and Cardinal Tagle has been one of them.

“In Asia, we see the beginning of strong theological thinking. The Philippines are also a clear example of how this is coming to be,” Pope Francis once claimed.

Tagle's papacy could lead the Church to become more inclusive as its demographic changes.

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About The Author
Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is a Filipino cultural critic, editor, and essayist. He writes about art, books, travel, people, current events, and all the magic in between. His past work in film and media can be found on PeopleAsia Magazine, The Philippine Star, MANILA BULLETIN, and IMDB.
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