Speculation grows about Pope's successor
By Vatican City
April 1, 2005 - 4:07PM
The deterioration in Pope Paul John II's health intensified speculation over who would succeed him, and the choice is expected to reflect the profound changes within the Roman Catholic Church in the past decades.
The next Pope will be elected in a secret conclave - a meeting held under lock and key - by up to 120 cardinals under the age of 80, the maximum allowed under a law adopted in 1975 by Paul VI.
There are at present 117 cardinals under 80, and of these nearly 100 have been appointed by John Paul II, and were likely, according to Vatican watchers, to reflect his conservative views in the choice of successor.
The next pontiff was virtually certain to come from among the cardinals themselves, although the prelates could in theory elect any baptised male.
Pope Gregory XVI in 1831 was a priest and Cardinal Alfonso Borgia, was a layman before becoming Pope Callistus III in 1455.
Until the election of John Paul II it used to be reasonable safe to predict that the next pope would be an Italian.
But a split in the Italian camp in 1978 accompanied by a last-minute push by a group of conservatives, particularly Americans, brought about what was then considered a revolution - the election of a Polish pope, the first non-Italian to head the See of Rome in 455 years.
Under John Paul II, the college of cardinals has become so internationalised and decentralised that the next pope could come from anywhere in the world, although there is a powerful sentiment to return to tradition and elect an Italian.
If this were to happen, strong candidates would include archbishops Dionigi Tettamanzi, 70, of Milan, Angelo Scola, 63, of Venice, Tarcisio Bertone, 70, of Genoa, Angelo Sodano, 77, the Vatican secretary of state, and Giovanni Battista Re, 71, the head of the Vatican congregation or department for bishops.
Another important factor is age.
If the cardinals are reasonably unanimous about the policies they want the Church to follow, they are likely to elect a young man, as Karol Wojtyla was on his election in 1978, to carry out these policies far into the future.
If they cannot agree on policies, they are more likely to choose an elderly candidate as a temporising measure.
One of the key younger candidates cited by Vatican watchers is Archbishop Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, who is 60.
If the cardinals decide on a non-Italian candidate, the field is wide open.
Africa, where the Church is facing competition from Islam and other confessions, has a strong candidate in Cardinal Francis Arinze from Nigeria, 72, who heads the Vatican congregation for divine worship.
And there are four possible candidates from Latin America - archbishops Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 75, head of the congregation for the clergy; Oscar Andres Rodrigues Maradiaga, 62, of Tegucigalpa; Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 68 of Buenos Aires; and Claudio Hummes, 70, of Sao Paulo.
Once the cardinals are sealed off in an overcrowded set of rooms in the Vatican palace anything can happen. If experience is a guide, they are likely to start with a series of complementary votes for friends or candidates from their home region, before whittling down the field to a couple of key candidates thought capable of attracting the necessary two thirds plus one of the votes.
A key factor often ignored by outsiders is that the cardinals believe that the invisible presence of the Holy Ghost is with them in the Sistine Chapel guiding their decision.
It was put to one American cardinal that the choice in 1978 of Cardinal Albino Luciano, who reigned for only 33 days as Pope John Paul I, did not seem to be divinely inspired.
On the contrary, the cardinal replied - it was the Holy Spirit's way of telling the cardinals they needed to break the Italian mould and elect a Pole as bishop of Rome.
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