- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

While it's difficult to imagine the passing of a moral icon, the whispers seem to increase with each week of the Holy Father's faltering footsteps. Who will take up the sacred trust in the highest seat of the Holy See when Pope John Paul II ends his long tenure?

Catholic laity and leadership have discussed the question for years, certain only that the pope will not resign. He has given no indication to the contrary, and doing so would set a modern precedent: The last pope to do so was Celestine V, who stepped down in 1294.

When the pope finishes his course, the College of Cardinals will select his successor from their ranks. They will gather at the Sistine Chapel, and all of the approximately 130 eligible cardinals (to be eligible, they must be under 80 years old) will cast secret ballots, praying to the Holy Spirit for wisdom before each round of voting. To be chosen, an individual must receive two-thirds of a majority plus one vote. However, if no winner has emerged after 10 or so days of balloting an unlikely, but not impossible outcome then a simple majority will prevail.

What will those electors be looking for? While the pope appointed more than 90 percent of the eligible cardinals, his successor will almost certainly have a different look. He will be old enough not to duplicate John Paul's long tenure, but young enough to endure the rigors of the office (between approximately 65 and 75 years old). He probably will be just as theologically conservative on the fundamentals of doctrine, but slightly more moderate in dealing with viewpoints that dissent. He almost certainly will not come from the United States, more from the cardinals' fears of symbolic favoritism than the recent sexual misconduct scandals. Many observers believe that the cardinals could be looking to the Third World, particularly Latin America, although Europeans remain traditional favorites.

Commonly mentioned candidates include:

• Godfried Danneels of Belgium: An outspoken, yet well-respected theologian seen as acceptable to progressives and conservatives.

• Giovanni Battista Re of Italy: A consummate manager and a theological moderate, seen by many as a perfect transitional pope.

• Dionigi Tettamanzi: His appointment last month as archbishop of Milan was taken as a sign to many of his high standing with the pope.

• Claudio Hummes, Franciscan archbishop of San Paulo, Brazil: One of Latin America's strongest candidates, a theological conservative from a populist diocese.

• Dario Castrillon Hoyos: Theologically conservative archbishop of Colombia and head of the Vatican office of the clergy, who has taken a strong stance against the drug lords.

• Francis Arinze of Nigeria: Perhaps the strongest candidate from Africa, this witty theological conservative leads the Vatican Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue.

Ultimately, it is far from certain who will next trod in the shoes of the fisherman. The College of Cardinals has a long history of making surprising appointments last time they surprised everyone by selecting the first non-Italian pope in more than 300 years, the relatively unknown cardinal of Krakow, Josef Wojtyla.

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