If the next pope was chosen on social networks, Cardinal Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle of Manila would succede Benedict XVI.
The second youngest in the College of Cardinals, Tagle, 55, is the most active cardinal on Facebook, according to a social media analysis by the Italian start-up Decisyon.
Tagle, regarded as “The Asian Karol Wojtyła,” boasts 123,000 ‘Likes.’ Decisyon established that since Jan. 1, his page has accounted for 52 percent of cardinals’s social-media use, producing more than 57,000 posts, comments and shares.
“We hope you are John Paul III, but we will still call you Chito,” one of Tagle’s fans from all over the world wrote.
Indeed, the Filipino cardinal is seen by many Vatican analysts as a papabile, a strong candidate to become the 265th successor of St. Peter.
Along with Austrian cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Tagle has also gained the support of SNAP, the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests.
Yesterday the group released a “Dirty Dozen” lists of cardinals based on their handling of child sex abuse allegations or their public comments about the cases.
On the contrary, the group representing survivors of sexual abuse by priests named Tangle a “promising candidate” for the papal throne.
“He argued that the church must stop ‘waiting for a bomb’ and instead should prevent the scandal from happening, rather than try to ‘prevent it from exploding’,” SNAP said.
The highest ranking prelate when it comes to social interaction, Tagle has a few competitors among the voting cardinals.
Only 17 out the 115 cardinals who will choose the new Pope are on Twitter.
While one of the bookmakers’ favorites, cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana, activated his @TurksonCardinal account on Feb 28, producing only four tweets, cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer from Brazil sent about 1,600 tweets to the more than 26,000 followers of his @DomOdiloScherer account, standing out as the most active papabile on the 140 character social network.
With more than 42,000 followers and 900 tweets, Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who quotes Kafka and Amy Winehouse in his posts, might as well rank in the top positions for social interactions. However, according to the newspaper Italia Oggi, Ravasi “doesn’t even own a computer in his office and writes everything by pen.” The @CardRavasi account would be run by the Cardinal’s spokesperson Richard Rouse.
South African cardinal Wilfrid Napier, who answers all tweets at his @CardinalNapier, entertains his more than 5,000 followers describing the pre-conclave atmosphere.
“We chat, discuss, get to know each other. Meals are special times. We relax, share stories about our home Churches, dream about the future,” he tweeted.
As for the conclave, whose date has not yet been set, Napier wrote: “What’s it like in Conclave? Apart from NO radio or TV, NO newspapers or phone calls, Emails or SMS’s, NO Twitter or Facebook, all is normal.”
Other cardinals such as the French Jean-Louis Tauran and the Italian Tarcisio Bertone, have preferred to suspend their accounts until the election of the new pope.
More drastically, Cardinal Angelo Scola from Italy, another of the bookmakers’ favorites, shut his account, amid speculations that he will soon use the @pontifex account, suspended after Benedict XVI’s resignation.
It is unlikely that the Pope emeritus opens a new account. This weekend, Benedict has been photographed as he walked around the gardens of his retreat near Rome, wearing a white baseball cap and a white jacket, just like any old retiree.
According to Decisyon’s analysis, number two in social media appeal is Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan of New York. With his @CardinalDolan account, the American cardinal has been engaging almost 90,000 followers. His posts include comments and links to his interviews and public appearances.
However he now appears compromised since he was featured as No. 1 on SNAP’s blacklist. Although he did not comment on SNAP’s claims, Dolan expressed doubt at rumors he would become the first American pope.
“I’d say those [rumors ] are only from people smoking marijuana,” the cardinal said in his latest interview.
Photo: A worker hangs a portrait of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines (right) next to a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI inside the Roman Catholic Archbishop headquarters in Manila February 12, 2013. Romeo Ranoco/Corbis