- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

Pope John Paul II’s sudden rush to the hospital Tuesday for flu complications is once again fueling speculation about who will replace the man who has ruled more than 1 billion Catholics for more than a quarter of a century.

The first Polish pope’s reign, now the third-longest after St. Peter and Pius IX, has appointed all but three of the cardinals who will vote for his successor, thus ensuring that the man who follows him will not differ radically from a man some already are calling “John Paul the Great.”

The pope’s condition stabilized yesterday, and a Vatican spokesman said John Paul’s heart and lungs were “within normal limits.” He will remain hospitalized for a few more days, the Vatican said.

Still, church observers went back to speculating over who might become the next pope.

Most are predicting Italian candidates as the front-runners, but one Nigerian cardinal and several Latin American prelates also are being named as men who represent the areas of the world where the Catholic Church is growing the fastest.

Raymond Flynn, ambassador to the Vatican during the Clinton administration, is betting on the Central and South American bishops.

“The world has changed under John Paul II,” he said. “The Italians don’t have the kind of domination in terms of voting members they once did.”

Hispanics are “the fastest-growing community of Catholics in the world,” Mr. Flynn said. “The church is very strong there, and there’s extraordinary leadership coming from Latin and Central America. Although we’re closing churches here, those are the two continents where they have to keep on building more Catholic churches for the population of Catholics there.”

John Paul II raised the percentage of non-European prelates in the College of Cardinals with the appointments he made during his 25th-anniversary celebrations in October 2003. There are 119 cardinals younger than 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next pontiff.

That same month, his Parkinson’s disease had rendered him too weak to crown each new cardinal with a red biretta, sparking rumors of his imminent demise. However, the pope soon rallied.

But his 84 years, ever-worsening Parkinson’s and current stay in the Gemelli Polyclinic, a Catholic hospital close to the Vatican, once again have brought up the inevitable conjectures on who may fill his shoes.

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit who edits America magazine, has made the papal transition a standard feature on his Web site, www.americamagazine.org.

“I think that the next pope will be a cardinal who is between 62 and 72 years of age,” he says on the site, “speaks Italian and English, who reflects John Paul’s positions (liberal on social justice and peace, traditional in church teaching and practice, and ecumenical but convinced the church has the truth) but has a very different personality and is a supporter of less centralization in the church and, therefore, probably not a curial cardinal.”

Italian, he added, is the working language of the Vatican and the language of Rome, for whom the pope is their bishop. English is either a first or second language for many of the world’s inhabitants; and Spanish is the language of huge numbers of Catholics.

Because John Paul II has occupied the throne for so long, the Italians are said to be eager to restore one of their own to the papacy, chiefly Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan, 70, who is considered a natural mediator with few enemies.

Among the non-Italian Europeans, Austria’s Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, 60, an intellectual heavyweight, could be a bridge between East and West, but is considered too young by some and too similar to the current Slavic pope by others. Another contender is Cardinal Godfried Danneels, 71, of Belgium, who has a reputation as a church moderate.

Or the cardinals, who will meet in a papal conclave within 20 days of the pope’s death, could choose an African, with the most-often mentioned candidate being Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze, 72. He is known for his expertise on Islam and interreligious affairs — and also for the uproar he caused in May 2003 at Georgetown University when he criticized homosexuals during a commencement address.

Sentiment could turn toward Latin America, which has never produced a pope. Top contenders there are Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, 62, a telegenic Honduran; Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 68, of Argentina, who is known for his expertise on social issues; or Cardinal Claudio Hummes, 70, of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the largest diocese in the world’s largest Catholic country.

Two 77-year-old men are considered too old to be pope: Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, the German head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, an Italian who is the Vatican secretary of state, are likely to increase their already extensive power within the Vatican together with Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, Pope John Paul II’s Polish personal secretary, if the pope’s stay in the hospital is protracted, Vatican sources say.

When the pope dies, the funeral rites will last nine days. The election, which will be conducted in total secrecy, will be in the Sistine Chapel.

Cardinals will live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a Vatican residence with 108 suites and 23 single rooms, which is vacated of its normal residents during a conclave.

Most conclaves in the past two centuries have been five days or less, although in 1831, a conclave lasted for 54 days. John Paul II’s selection occurred on the third day, after the conclave reached an impasse over two Italian candidates: Cardinals Giuseppe Siri and Giovanni Benelli, and decided to elect the first non-Italian in 456 years.

Typically, there are two daily votes, with the winner needing a two-thirds vote plus one.

Each time there is an inconclusive election, the ballots are burned with a chemical that causes black smoke to arise out of a chimney to the right of St. Peter’s Basilica, notifying the world that no pope has been picked.

When a pope is selected, the ballots are burned to cause a cloud of white smoke for the crowds who will be waiting in St. Peter’s Square.

• John Phillips contributed to this article from Rome.

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