The College of Cardinals meets today to pick the 265th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Because John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, speculation is high that church fathers may break new ground again — perhaps by picking a non-European, an African or the first Latin American to be pope. The media constantly states that the only certainty is that this supposedly conservative college will pick a conservative pope. This prediction is unlikely because the cardinals are actually very liberal.
John Paul II appointed more than 95 percent of the cardinals. Paradoxically, however, most of the prominent cardinals hold leftist positions that depart from the traditional Catholic moral teachings he defended. In 1978, when John Paul II became pope, radicals and conservatives were fighting over what the church would become when the dust settled from the revolutionary Second Vatican Council of 1962?65. Today, there are no pre-Vatican II traditionalists left in the hierarchy.
Forty percent of Catholics worldwide come from Latin America, which has a powerful clique of 21 voting cardinals. Most of these have been decades-long backers of liberation theology, the dangerous concoction of twisted religious tenants and Marxist principles that espouses class warfare and proletariat revolution. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world, putting Sao Paulo Archbishop Claudio Hummes at the head of the pack of frontrunners. Cardinal Hummes is outspokenly anti-American and supports confiscation and redistribution of property belonging to the rich. Likewise, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga supports Third World debt relief and the “equalizing” redistribution of global wealth.
European ecclesiastical leaders are as liberal as their secular counterparts. Four prominent cardinals from the old world are Brussels Archbishop Godfried Danneels, Scot Keith O’Brien, and Germans Walter Kasper and Karl Lehmann. These European cardinals have opened the door for changing church law against divorce, contraception, women and married clergy and more flexible positions on abortion and homosexuality.
At 20, Italian cardinals comprise the largest national voting bloc. Many cardinals lean toward tapping an Italian because they have centuries of experience running the Rome-based church bureaucracy. Milan Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi backs condom distribution and has spoken supportively to anti-globalization rioters. Venice Patriarch Angelo Scola thinks the church should loosen up bioethical rules on issues such as stem-cell research. Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, the most powerful prelate behind the pope, handpicked a majority of the bishops responsible for covering up clerical sex abuse.
Two relatively conservative cardinals considered to be papal possibilities are Nigerian Francis Arinze and German Joseph Ratzinger. But as Cardinal Ratzinger has explained, this is a matter of perspective. One of the most liberal theologians at Vatican Council II, he insists he has not shifted positions over the years but that the world has moved so far to the left that even a committed progressive such as himself is considered conservative. Overall, John Paul II’s cardinals are poised to take the Catholic Church leftward.