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 CNS Story:


Conclave includes viable papal candidates from several continents

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The cardinals gathering to elect Pope John Paul II's successor will represent the most international conclave ever held, with influential electors and viable papal candidates from several continents.

Pope John Paul's more than 26-year pontificate saw the world's Catholic population shift toward Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia, and many observers think the moment has arrived for a Third World pope. That would be a revolution, but hardly a shocking one: Cardinals from developing countries today represent nearly half of conclave voters.

Others in Rome believe that following the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, it's time for an Italian again -- one who can use the traditional skills of compromise and consensus-building to increase unity in the church.

Despite years of public speculation by the media and private reflection by the cardinals, there is no clear favorite in the conclave that will convene to elect the 265th Roman pontiff.

"The Italian cardinals appear divided, as they were in the last conclaves (of 1978.) If the Latin American cardinals were to unite behind a single candidate, that might be enough to determine the election. But it's not clear whether that will happen," one cardinal said in March.

Some would say the lack of a frontrunner leaves ample space for the action of the Holy Spirit. But it also allows for subtle persuasion during closed-door deliberations -- called "general congregations" -- held by the College of Cardinals in the days before the conclave begins, and in the informal meetings that take place among small groups of cardinals in Rome.

"You can expect the cardinals to get serious about looking for a successor when they sit down in the general congregations. For the first time, they'll be discussing the future of the church without the pope being present," said one longtime Vatican official.

The general congregations are open to all of the world's 183 cardinals, but only those under age 80 can take part in the actual conclave in the Sistine Chapel. The voting cardinals today number 117, and only three of them have ever participated in a conclave before.

Geographically, the cardinals are more spread out than ever before, but they have come together more often than in past eras -- in Rome for synods, consistories and frequent Vatican meetings, and elsewhere for regional church events. Many of the cardinals have traveled extensively, visiting church communities around the world. Most observers say that means they know each other far better than the cardinals who gathered at the last two conclaves in 1978.

Previous conclaves have been logistical ordeals, as cardinals camped out in makeshift quarters in the ancient rooms of the Apostolic Palace. But this time the cardinals will reside at the Vatican's modern and comfortable guest house, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and ride a bus to their sessions in the Sistine Chapel.

Although the cardinals will no longer be locked inside the voting area, they will pledge to uphold the absolute secrecy of the conclave's proceedings and to avoid contact with the outside world until it is over.

About 10 days after the pope's funeral, the cardinals will process into the Sistine Chapel and begin the voting process. A single vote can be held on the first day, and then the rounds of balloting -- two in the morning and two in the afternoon -- proceed with occasional daylong pauses until a new pope is elected by a two-thirds majority. Under new rules written by the late pope, however, it will be easier to move to a simple majority vote if the conclave goes past 12 days.

One thing is certain: Having appointed more than 97 percent of the voting cardinals, the late pope remains an influential figure in the coming conclave. None of the true "papabili," or potential popes, have shown any indication they would alter the pastoral directions established by Pope John Paul.

The cardinals who are considered the strongest candidates for election include several from Italy and other European countries, at least three from Latin America and an African.

For centuries, Italians controlled the conclave and invariably elected one of their own. Even today, some cardinals think there are built-in reasons to elect an Italian pope: the Vatican's location as an enclave inside Italy, the fact that Italian is the common language of the Roman Curia, the role the Vatican has historically played in Italy and the pope's own position as bishop of Rome.

But in recent years, no Italian cardinal appears to have garnered the kind of pre-conclave support needed to propel him to a quick election. Instead, speculation has centered on two or three cardinals who represent slightly different wings of Italian Catholicism.

Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan, 71, is considered by many the front-runner. Short, stout and quick to smile, he is viewed as a theological conservative with a strong social conscience. He is seasoned in church administration, having held key positions in the Italian bishops' conference. A teacher of moral theology for 20 years, he helped prepare Pope John Paul's encyclical on human life issues, "Evangelium Vitae," and in 2000, he wrote an online "e-book" on medical ethics. He is also considered one of the Italian church's top experts in marriage and family ministry, the lay apostolate and youth formation.

Increasingly, Cardinal Tettamanzi has spoken out on social issues at home and abroad, highlighting in particular the populations left behind by globalization. He drew criticism from the right when, as archbishop of Genoa in 2001, he defended protesters at a G-8 meeting in the city and spoke movingly of the new situations of poverty in the world. In Milan, he has repeatedly challenged the city to live up to Gospel values in the way they treat society's weakest members.

Cardinal Tettamanzi came to the media's attention at the 1999 European Synod of Bishops, where some leading bishops suggested a churchwide council to examine possible reforms and a less-centralized style of church governance. At a closing press conference, Cardinal Tettamanzi said the proposal had found "no echo" at the synod.

Cardinal Angelo Scola, 63, is a respected academic and theologian who has headed the Patriarchate of Venice since 2002. Considered by many as a "cultural warrior," his eagerness to push church teachings in the public forum has earned him plaudits from other church leaders. He travels extensively, speaks several languages and remains a prolific writer despite a heavy pastoral schedule.

Cardinal Scola is considered a friend of new church movements, having spent several years with the Communion and Liberation movement as a young student and priest in Milan. He has tried to stimulate lay formation in Venice, inaugurating an important new educational complex that offers theology degrees followed by specialist studies in bioethics, business ethics, art and social sciences. He also has forged new contacts with Orthodox churches and reached out to support Christian minorities in the Middle East.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who worked for years in the pope's shadow as papal vicar of Rome, is seen as a longshot Italian candidate who, if elected, would press ahead with the late pope's agenda. President of the Italian bishops' conference since 1991, Cardinal Ruini, 73, gets high marks for administration but low marks for charisma. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he supported the right of the United States to respond militarily. In Italy, he has pressed hard against legislative attempts to introduce euthanasia and a number of proposals that would weaken the traditional definition of the family.

Church leaders in Rome who yearn for a strong administrator as pope sometimes point to Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, 71, who spent years as the No. 2 man at the Vatican's Secretariat of State and has run the Congregation for Bishops since 2000. His lack of pastoral experience would be a serious handicap during a conclave.

Other Europeans frequently mentioned as potential papal candidates include Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, 71, who has called for more openness and more consultation in the way the church deals with some key issues; and Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, 60, a Dominican who helped write the "Catechism of the Catholic Church." Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, 78, a biblical scholar and retired archbishop of Milan who remains a popular pastoral figure in Italy, is expected to be influential in a conclave and may have some support for the papacy despite his age.

European cardinals still represent 49 percent of conclave voters, but for the first time in history they are not an absolute majority. That has prompted the whole church to look more closely at the wider field of cardinals.

Latin America, home to more than 40 percent of the world's Catholics and the biggest voting bloc of cardinals after Europe, has at least three cardinals frequently mentioned as strong papal candidates:

-- Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, 62, whose age may count against him with cardinals wary of another long pontificate. Charismatic, plainspoken and fluent in seven languages, he served as president of the Latin American bishops' council, or CELAM, 1995-99, promoting a wide range of economic justice initiatives between North and South America.

More recently, he made headlines when he criticized what he called a media "witch hunt" against the Catholic Church regarding clerical sex abuse. That might have lost him points among some U.S. observers, but did not hurt his standing with some other prelates around the world.

-- Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the 70-year-old Franciscan who heads the populous Sao Paolo Archdiocese. The son of German immigrants, he was named bishop of Santo Andre in 1975 and gained pastoral experience among laborers, sometimes mediating between companies and unions. He has strongly defended the church's family and pro-life teachings.

In 2002, the late pope called him to preach his Lenten retreat -- a sign of papal favor that often counts at conclave time. He is also a member of nine important Vatican agencies, more than any other Latin American cardinal.

A constant theme of Cardinal Hummes' pastoral work has been protecting human dignity in areas of the family, labor and economic justice. At a Christmas fund-raiser for a church-run job-training center, he said: "Jesus was born poor among the poor to call our attention to the social injustice that makes a portion of humanity increasingly poor, suffering, humiliated and excluded from sufficient access to the goods of the earth."

As a bishop in the late 1970s, he opened the doors of churches as a refuge for those hunted by the military regime. When he headed the Archdiocese of Fortaleza in the 1990s, he strengthened his fame as a peacemaker, this time by opening the doors to new Catholic movements, such as the charismatics, without generating tensions among the more progressive basic Christian communities.

-- Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a 68-year-old Jesuit who has a growing reputation as a very spiritual man with a talent for pastoral leadership. An author of books on spirituality and meditation, since 1998 he has been archbishop of Buenos Aires, where his style is low-key and close to the people. He rides the bus, visits the poor and a few years ago made a point of washing the feet of 12 AIDS sufferers on Holy Thursday. He also has created 17 new parishes, restructured the administrative offices, led pro-life initiatives and started new pastoral programs, such as a commission for divorcees. He co-presided over the 2001 Synod of Bishops and was elected to the synod council, so he is well-known to the world's bishops.

Latin Americans at the Vatican also point to two sometimes-overlooked church leaders in Mexico, each of whom has a reputation as a social liberal and theological conservative in the Pope John Paul tradition: Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City, 62; and Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez of Guadalajara, 72.

Among the African cardinals, one stands out: Cardinal Francis Arinze, 72, a member of the Ibo tribe, converted to Christianity as a child. He excelled as a young bishop in northern Nigeria in a period marked by strife and hunger, before being called to the Vatican in 1985 to head the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He firmly adhered to Pope John Paul's line on dialogue: It is essential in a shrinking world for religions to respect each other, but this can never diminish the church's duty to announce Christ.

In 2002, Cardinal Arinze was promoted to head the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments -- only the second time an African cardinal has headed one of the nine top Vatican departments. In 2004, the congregation issued an important document taking aim at a wide range of liturgical abuses, and it has continued to exercise close control on liturgical translations.

During the congregation's plenary session in March 2005, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto said Cardinal Arinze ran the meeting briskly, keeping order but in a "democratic and fair" way.

"He's simple, in an intelligent kind of way," Cardinal Ambrozic said. Known for his blunt talk and sense of humor, Cardinal Arinze has close ties to conservative Catholic groups in the United States.

Other potential candidates can be found among the ranks of well-known as well as relatively unknown cardinals:

-- German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the 77-year-old prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has been the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog since 1981. In the eyes of many, he was the dominant curial figure in the last pontificate, and he would be an attractive choice to those who want an even clearer line against dissent inside the church.

Whether a candidate or not, Cardinal Ratzinger will certainly be an influential force, or "grand elector," in the conclave. His position as dean of the College of Cardinals means he will preside over the daily congregations of cardinals and guide their discussions in the period leading up to the election.

-- Portuguese Cardinal Jose da Cruz Policarpo, the 69-year-old patriarch of Lisbon, who is seen by some as a potential bridge candidate between Europe and Latin America. A former academic and a prolific writer, the cardinal has produced articles and books ranging from Marian spirituality -- reflecting the Portuguese devotion to Our Lady of Fatima -- to the moral and spiritual challenges of modern society.

Shortly after being made a cardinal in 2001, he participated in a meeting with Pope John Paul and more than 150 other cardinals to discuss the church and the third millennium. Afterward, he said the key conclusion was that "evangelization is witness. The church must give a radical witness of holiness, charity and poverty."

In recent years, Cardinal Policarpo has made overtures to Muslims and Jews, emphasizing the common social agenda of all believers. But, as he told a Synod of Bishops in 2001, the church cannot follow "a merely cultural and sociological notion of dialogue." For the church, he said, dialogue starts with faith in Jesus and in the Gospel. The church listens to others after listening to the word of God, responding to questions and challenges by living the faith more deeply and completely, he said.

-- Cardinal Nicolas Lopez Rodriguez of the Dominican Republic, 68, who organized the church's celebration of the fifth centenary of the evangelization of the Americas in Santo Domingo in 1992. A past president of CELAM, he has emphasized evangelization in the region and insisted that the church's concern for the poor must not be "exclusive or excluding." A strong voice on family issues, he has been sharply critical of U.S.-supported abortion and sterilization campaigns, comparing them to the work of "death squads."

-- Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias of Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is considered an Asian long shot among papal contenders. A longtime Vatican diplomat who is fluent in 17 languages, the 68-year-old prelate was named to Mumbai in 1996. Cardinal Dias has endorsed the teachings of the controversial Vatican document, "Dominus Iesus," saying the church has no choice but to announce Christ as the only mediator between God and humanity. He is the type of pastoral leader the Vatican hopes will lead the evangelization advance in India and the rest of Asia. Insiders add that the cardinal has a sense of humor and that his jokes made the late pope laugh.


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