msnbc | March 02, 2013
>>> i would be remiss if i didn't ask you that what do you think the chances are that you walk into the sistine chapel as cardinal and coming out as pope.
>> as about a-rod for taking third place for the new york yankes.
>> sports metaphors are not too far off when it comes to picking a new pope. there is a sweet sistine bracket under way. that sweet sistine bracket trying to predict who will be the next catholic leader. talk about march madness . meanwhile, the world waits to find out when the conclave to choose the next pope will even begin.
>> an announcement is expected to come monday, that is when the cardinals will meet in their first general congregation . joining me live now, george weigel , nbc news vatican analyst and author of " evangelical catholicism . deep reform in the 21st century church ." thank you for being with us.
>> my pleasure, craig. good to hear you.
>> what can we glean from the date the cardinals choose from the conclave, be it in a matter of days or weeks from now?
>> i think if they decide on monday or tuesday to wait until the 12th or 13th of may it's an indication that they want to get to know each other better. they want to discuss some of the problems of the church and to explore some of the possibilities of the church around the world and also to measure some of these candidates against the problems and as possibilities. i think the general street talk here in rome is to look for a conclave opening around perhaps march 11th or 12th.
>> okay. but all of that is pure speculation right now.
>> you've said that you're starting to hear some names bandied about there in vatican city . cardinal angelo scola , archbishop of milan. cardinal angelo bagnasco , and former archbishop of quebec, what makes these cardinals the subject of papal buzz. walk us through here?
>> i think these three men are the subject of buzz because they each bring a relevant body of experien experience. scola and leonard are distinguished scholars and they've led educational institutions and they're men of real intellect intellectall, and sandri spent his entire life in rome . i asked him once was he really an argentine, and he said yes, during the world cup . so we're back to sports analogies here, but i think, craig, the think to underscore here is that if this were the indianapolis 500 there is no front row and there is no pole position .
>> this is completely wide open unlike 2005 and it's a very fluid situation in which things are changing up and down for some people on a 24-hour basis.
>> let's talk about cardinal peter turkson from ghana. the writing in the article says in part, both because of his personality and the historic milestone some journalists have taken to calling this papal election an obama moment for the church . could turkson be a top pick?
>> i know cardinal turkson . i consider him a friend. he's a lovely man. he's a good biblical scholar . he was a good pastor back in kenya. he has not fit well in rome . i think he would be the first person to tell you that. he doesn't really feel comfortable being manager of the sort he's had to be in the roman curia , and i think the buzz about him is a reflection of his winsome personality, but he would not be candidly, in my top ten. he's a wonderful human being , but this job now is going to require someone to undertake some serious reform of the vatican bureaucracy, and i'm not sure he'll be regarded as the man likeliest to do that.
>> if we take a look at the makeup of the conclave itself. more than 50% of the cardinals are from europe. just a majority of those are from italy alone. how much will geography play in the choosing of the next pope.
>> i don't think a lot, except there is an awfully large anti-italian current running in rome right now. i think the feeling is that the curia, the vatican bureaucracy has been re-italianized dramatically over the past seven years, that this has not worked out very well. the church recently semiembraced a candidate, former prime minister monti who got 9% of the vote. so there's a sense that this is not an italian moment and in that sense, nationality might play a role. this is a very interesting, difficult, challenging moment in the life of the church and i don't think what passport a man is carrying will have a whole lot to do with whether he's considered a possible --
>> last question here before i let you go.
>> i have to wonder how can the next pope have the most influence? would it be better for the conclave to choose someone from a part of the world where catholicism is strong or might a choice like a cardinal dolan here in north america inspire a place where catholicism is on the decline?
>> in fact, catholicism is in a much stronger position in the united states today than it was 20 years ago. the american seminary here in rome right above where we are tonight is fuller than it's ever been since 1964 , and i think the vitality of the church in the united states will cause some people to look at the possibility of the north american pope.
>> nbc vatican analyst george weigel ,