Cardinal hopes for a "people's pope"

Cardinal Henri Schwery will be the only Swiss in the conclave Keystone Archive

Henri Schwery, the only Swiss cardinal taking part in the election of the next pope, says that John Paul II's successor should have a true pastoral touch.

This content was published on April 11, 2005 - 08:48

His comments came shortly before a new survey showed that most Swiss Catholics want a pontiff more atuned to today's society.

Schwery is the youngest of Switzerland’s three cardinals, and the only one eligible to vote at next week's conclave. The upper age limit of 80 means that cardinals Gilberto Agustoni and Georges Cottier cannot take part in the election.

Before his departure for Rome, Schwery said he hoped the new pope would be a man who had worked in parishes and was close to the people.

On Sunday, a poll in the SonntagsBlick newspaper revealed that three out of four Swiss Catholics wanted a less conservative pontiff on the issues of sexuality and doctrine.

The same number also believe the celibacy rule for priests should be dropped by the next pope, and that he should allow women to become priests.

In all, 117 churchmen are eligible to participate in the conclave – the gathering of cardinals to elect a new pope.

The largest number of electors – 58 – comes from Europe.

Theoretically the former bishop of Sion could be a potential candidate himself, but with his low media profile and poor health he is not considered a serious contender.

Although he was for some years head of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, Schwery is less well known in Switzerland than Cottier, who served as the pope’s personal theologian at the Vatican.


After the Polish Pope, observers expect the highest office in the Catholic Church to go to an Italian.

But there is also speculation that the next pontiff could come from the developing world, where the church is thriving.

Speaking to the French-language newspaper Le Nouvelliste before he departed for Rome, Schwery said he had no favourites for the job.

But he did say he would prefer someone with pastoral experience, rather than a Vatican bureaucrat.

"At present I have no idea whom I will choose," he said.

"But I would favour a candidate who understands the reality of people’s lives and their needs."

"I admit that I have difficulty being on the same wavelength as some members of the curia who have spent their careers in church offices and who perhaps are lacking pastoral experience in the parishes."


Key facts

Switzerland has three cardinals – Henri Schwery, Georges Cottier and Gilberto Agustoni.
In total, 117 cardinals are eligible to take part in the election of a new pope.
The Vatican has announced the conclave will meet on April 18.
Cardinals will hold secret ballots to decide who succeeds Pope John Paul II.

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