- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

The death watch over Pope John Paul II has been on for years now, but recent turns for the worse in the pontiff’s health have Vatican officials preparing for the eventual change in leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. In their everyday announcements, prominent cardinals who might be considered papal candidates are positioning themselves to be leaders of different factions in the College of Cardinals, which will elect the next pope. For that reason, individuals with strident views are becoming more moderate for a time, and those who have made a career of avoiding controversy are going out of their way to stake positions that help define a possible candidacy. There is only one certainty, which is that the next pope will be more liberal than Pope John Paul II.

A good indication of the leftist leanings of the cardinals is revealed by looking at one considered to be a right-winger. Among watchers of papal politics, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the archbishop of Milan, is the most conservative of those considered to be papabile, which is what a cardinal with enough stature to be elected pope is called. His record, however, is rather liberal. For example, a pastoral letter published by the cardinal’s office downplayed the Catholic Church’s condemnation of homosexual acts by equating them to heterosexual promiscuity outside of marriage. As far as moral theology, this is a major break from the church’s traditional position that homosexuality is one of the gravest in a hierarchy of sins.

The point relevant to conclave politics isn’t that Cardinal Tettamanzi is hedging on homosexuality, but that such a move can be considered good politics to reassure liberal cardinal-electors that he isn’t overly conservative. His economics also fall into a decidedly liberal category. Before getting promoted to Milan last year — an assignment that moved him into the most powerful archdiocese in the world before the next papal election — Cardinal Tettamanzi headed the archdiocese of Genoa. In the less influential post, he impressed Vatican liberals by taking sides with the anti-globalist protesters who vandalized the city during a G-8 summit there. In a move that surprised church conservatives, he addressed the rioters and criticized capitalism.

A run down the list of other cardinals considered to be papabile shows that the rest are even more to the left of the archbishop of Milan. For example, last week, Cardinal Renato Martino, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, slammed the United States for treating a captured Saddam Hussein “like a cow,” for whom he felt “compassion” and “pity.” These statements were seen by some papal handicappers as improving his standing with the European vote.

Godfried Danneels of Belgium is a leading voice of dissenting thought on everything from morals to institutional organization, and Claudio Hummes of Brazil takes social justice to an extreme where he comes close to undermining the principle of private property, a right Catholic doctrine has always defended. Cardinal Francis Arinze, the leading African candidate, pushes inter-religious synthesis that mixes Catholicism with practices of native religions. Germany’s Walter Kasper has questioned the Catholic position against divorce, supported a government plan in which priests provided certificates needed for abortions and called for papal term limits. All of these men were handpicked to be cardinals by Pope John Paul II and are in the ideological majority of the College of Cardinals.

In a decision that surprised Catholic lay people around the world, church officials invited hip-hop singer Lauryn Hill to perform at a Vatican Christmas concert a week ago, during which she said some appalling things about the hierarchy. That the most powerful leaders in the Catholic Church would sponsor and attend a hip-hop concert speaks volumes about the tendencies of those who will choose the next pope.

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