According to a source in one of the Roman congregations, someone who has worked with His Holiness in the past, the only two names among our present hierarchy that the Pope is both familiar with and approves of, are those of the Archbishop of Cardiff, Peter Smith, and the Bishop of East Anglia, Michael Evans.
The latter is supposedly very ill indeed, and therefore not a likely candidate. Peter Smith might well be a candidate—his name already has been mentioned as being in the running.
A Londoner, ordained for the Archdiocese of Southwark in the early 1970s, having studied for the priesthood at St John's Seminary, Wonersh, he served as assistant priest at Larkhall Lane, Stockwell, for a very short period, and then went to Rome to study Canon Law. At the English College, he was highly critical of the lax and liberal atmosphere fostered by the then Rector, one, er, Monsignor Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and, I think, left to live at the Beda College instead.
Back in England, he returned to St John's Seminary, Wonersh, and taught Canon Law and associated subjects (this was before the promulgation of the 1983 Code, when it was rather difficult to teach this subject, since everyone knew things were about to change, but not how). In due course, he was made Vice-Rector, and was much admired by the more conservative students, since he made no secret of his difference of views with the then Rector, one, er, Monsignor Christopher Budd, who was then systematically changing the seminary into something more like an Anglican Theological College.
For a year, Peter Smith was placed in charge of a parish—St Andrew's, Thornton Heath—which, with his 6 months or so at Larkhall Lane, was to prove his only parish experience, but on which he would continue to draw endless stories to illustrate this or that point of moral theology or canon law. Christopher Budd left Wonersh for his only pastoral experience (6 weeks as administrator of Brentwood Cathedral), and the seminary was run by one, er, Father Michael Evans, for a few months.
Peter Smith returned to Wonersh triumphantly as Rector, and then Monsignor, where he spent the next few years happily espousing all the causes he had spent the previous ten years despising. If Budd had been into psychobabble as a remedy for every problem, well, then Smith would make every student see a shrink. In fact he'd have a shrink on the permanent staff. If Budd made Compline sometimes optional, well then Smith made it always optional. Those like myself who had looked forward to a Smith rectorate as something of a restoration were to be sadly disappointed.
In due course, Smith was made Bishop of East Anglia, with a reputation for fairness, on the whole, and London good humour. He had his fingers burned over the publication of a school textbook by the wife of a former Jesuit which appeared to question the Resurrection, but, Teflon-like, the dirt slid off and stuck to someone else (who, I happen to know, wasn't really responsible: the real culprit was neither of these two, but the author and one other whose name was never mentioned in connection with the affair).
Since his translation to Cardiff, I've rather lost touch, but what I hear is unremarkable but good. He has spoken well on moral issues for the BBC, and the Archdiocese seem content.
So there we go; make your own mind up. Which is the real Smith? The conservative Catholic? The liberal reformer? Or something else?