BEIRUT: The lag in the election of a new patriarch to head Lebanon’s influential Maronite Church would boost the chances of a compromise candidate and weaken the standings of favorites to succeed Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, a source close to the church told The Daily Star Monday. The meeting of the synod of Maronite bishops, who have been convening in isolation from the outside world since Wednesday, has been shrouded in secrecy in an indication of a close race among favorite candidates, the source said.
The source added that the failure to quickly settle the outcome of the electoral race within the coming two days would most likely prolong the process further while favorite candidates would lose the advantage to bishops regarded as compromise figures.
The conclave’s first electoral rounds kicked off Saturday morning after three days of prayers. Four rounds have taken place daily since Saturday: two in the morning and two in the afternoon.
The failure to elect a new patriarch within a 15-day period would require the Vatican to intervene to appoint one.
“That is why bishops will agree to drop support to favorite candidates after their failure to obtain a two-thirds majority and agree to grant their votes to a compromise candidate to avoid the intervention of the Vatican to resolve the deadlock,” the source said.
“Beirut Bishop Boulos Matar remains so far the favorite candidate, but the failure to elect him in the coming two days would largely diminish his chances,” he added.
The source said the major complication hindering the victory of a candidate by a two-thirds majority was the adoption of an open vote system, which bishops thoroughly debated Saturday when they decided on rules governing the vote process.
When Sfeir was elected in 1986 to succeed late Patriarch Antoine Khreich, he, like his precedent, was elected as a compromise candidate after then favorites failed to guarantee a two-thirds majority.
“If the bishops fail to elect a patriarch within the coming two days, any nominations will be mere speculations because the election of any candidate becomes possible,” the source said.
The source added that Bishop Guy Boulos Njeim, who is regarded as a compromise figure and appears to enjoy the backing of Sfeir in second place after Bsharri Bishop Antoine Andari, is unlikely to be elected given his old age.
Sfeir’s resignation was accepted last month during a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on the sidelines of a visit to the Vatican to unveil a statue of St. Maroun, the founder of the Maronite Church, on the outer wall of St. Peter’s Basilica.
If the newly elected patriarch is not a bishop, the result of the vote will be kept secret, even from the elected cleric until he is notified of a decision to elevate him to the rank of bishop before he is declared patriarch following Vatican approval. The elected cleric must accept the post within two days or else his election will be deemed void.