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 CNS Story:

CARDINALS-PELL Feb-27-2013 (830 words) xxxi

Australian cardinal says age, nationality will count in conclave

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sydney Cardinal George Pell, 71, said age, nationality and pastoral experience will be among the factors the cardinals consider when voting for a new pope.

"I would be surprised if we elect someone who's quite as old as the pope was when he was elected, but I suspect the cardinal-electors would be a bit reluctant to choose someone who might be pope for 30 years or 40 years," which would be likely with a cardinal currently in his early 50s, Cardinal Pell said.

"That narrows the range down, but it depends on the candidate," he told Catholic News Service Feb. 27.

Cardinal Pell attended Pope Benedict XVI's final audience and listened to the pope reaffirm his conviction that God is always with the church, in good times and bad.

"I think it was rather poignant the way he explained he had to weigh up what he was doing," deciding whether to continue his ministry given his age and declining energy.

The pope acknowledged "the fact that it breaks to some extent with the tradition, but he just didn't feel he had the capacity to lead the church the way it should be led. That's a very difficult situation for the pope to find himself in," the cardinal said.

The pope's audience, Cardinal Pell said, reaffirmed Catholic teaching that the papacy is protected by divine providence. "Because of our stupidity and sins, it would have gone out of business more than a thousand years ago if it was just a human invention," he said.

Cardinal Pell participated in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict, then 78.

He said that in looking for Pope Benedict's successor nationality will matter, "but you don't start there. But I've always said a good -- in inverted commas -- Italian candidate has an advantage because the pope is the bishop of Rome. I'm not saying that's a decisive advantage, but it's a bit of an advantage and I think that is not inappropriate."

At the same time, he said, being from the United States, the world's remaining superpower, is a definite disadvantage.

"Cardinal (Francis E.) George (of Chicago) is too old now, and in many ways he would have been a splendid pope, but I don't think the universal church is going to choose a pope from the superpower," Cardinal Pell said.

The church had superpower French popes in the 14th century when the papacy was in Avignon, and it was not the best experience, he said.

"Superpowers are not universally popular, and a lot of people would see too much of an alignment of power between a pope who was from the States and the United States" government, he said.

"Even if a candidate from the United States was pretty close to clearly the best candidate, I'm not sure he'd be elected," the Australian cardinal said. "That's no disrespect for the United States; I'm a great admirer of the United States."

The world "desperately needs American leadership, but I don't think we're going to have a pope from the States," he said.

Cardinal Pell said he also would look for "a man of faith and regular prayer," someone who understands Catholic tradition and is committed to it.

"If the pope is a saint, I'm sure it's an enormous advantage," he said.

"We can no longer afford something like our 16th-century popes: Most of them were formidable leaders, but only marginally interested in religion. The church cannot survive like now," he said.

The church also needs a pope able to communicate and share the faith, he said.

"I think at the moment we need a pope who is an experienced pastoral leader, who has run a diocese and can encourage the Roman Curia in the right direction," he said.

"What we want is a good pope who will lead us as effectively as possible in these difficult times," he added.

The challenges facing the church vary from place to place, he said. In the West, the chief concerns are increasing secularism, low birth rates and the collapse of the family. In the Middle East, there is the persecution of the Christians. In Africa, the church experiences challenges that come with its rapid growth, but also sometimes tense relations between Islam and Christianity, he said.

The challenge in China is to increase freedom, he said: "Christianity is spreading in China like it did in the pagan Roman Empire."

The next pope will have to respond in some ways to each of those challenges, so he should be able to speak a number of languages and be someone who is not "closed up in his national culture," Cardinal Pell said.

"I often quote St. Teresa of Avila. She said when she was looking for a spiritual director -- I might have the words slightly wrong -- she said she'd look for a learned man, a learned priest, rather than a pious fool. And she's a saint. And I agree," he said.


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