“Sequestration” was originally a legal term referring to the act of property being taken into custody and locked away for safekeeping, usually to prevent that property from being disposed of before a dispute over its ownership could be resolved.
Recently, however, “sequestration” has also come to mean automatic cuts to federal budget expenditures if Congress cannot agree on fiscal matters before a given date. Right now, unless Congress acts to make significant economic decisions before the end of this month, sequestration will begin on March 1.
If such sequestration does occur, it will not be good news for the U.S. economy in the weeks or months ahead, and who knows what the long term effects might be. Some agreement will surely be made in the next week, but who knows? Maybe not.
Regardless of what Congress does or doesn’t do, though, sequestration of quite a different sort is definitely coming in March.
As was widely and repeatedly reported in the news last week, Pope Benedict XVI has announced his resignation, effective on February 28 at 8 p.m. (CET). Consequently, the conclave of Cardinals responsible for electing a new pope will convene in Vatican City in mid-March, and from the time of their first meeting until their decision is made, they (the Cardinals eligible to vote) will be sequestered within Vatican City and will take an oath of secrecy.
There are currently 209 Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church, but only the 117 who are under the age of 80 will be a part of the papal conclave. By far, the largest percentage (just under 61%) of them are Europeans, and 67 of the 117 (57%) have been appointed by Benedict XVI, the resigning pope. But there is a real possibility that the first non-European pope since Gregory III (731-741) will be selected by the sequestered Cardinals.
Any baptized Catholic male is eligible for the papacy, but since 1389 the Cardinals have always elected a fellow Cardinal. It is hard to think that that will not be the case again this time. Those appearing at the top of the lists compiled by odds makers are Cardinals Arinze of Nigeria, Ouelette of Canada, Sandri of Argentina, and Turkson of Ghana—with the latter having the greatest support.
Of course, Italian Cardinals Bagnasco, Bertone, and Scola have strong credentials, and few would be surprised if one of them, or another Italian, is elected.
There have been three African popes previously, although the last, Gelasius I (492-496), may have been born in Rome of a North African family. All three of the African popes, however, seem to have been Caucasian, but that is not the case for Cardinals Arinze and Turkson. What would it mean to have a Black pope?
Personally, I hope that Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines will be elected, although he is likely much too young (55) to be selected by colleagues who all older than he is, except for one. There is something to be said for popes being up in years when they are elected; that is, perhaps it is better for a pope not to be in office for decades. Still, I like the idea of an Asian Pope. Maybe next time.
At any rate, it is going to be interesting to see how sequestration turns out, both in regards to the U.S. budget and to the election of the next pope.