Ratzinger possible successor to Pope John Paul
7 April 2005, ROME - The debate about possible successors of late Pope John Paul II was in full swing in Rome on Wednesday, four days after the pontiff's death.
7 April 2005
ROME - The debate about possible successors of late Pope John Paul II was in full swing in Rome on Wednesday, four days after the pontiff's death.
Among those tipped to have the best chances were German cardinal Josef Ratzinger, who heads the College of Cardinals and the Congregation of the Faith, or a possible candidate from Latin America.
At 77 years of age, Ratzinger could be a possible 'transition pope', according to observers pointing out that cardinals often prefer an older candidate to succeed a long-serving pope.
Meanwhile, Nigerian cardinal Francis Arinze himself played down the possibility that he might be the first African pope in modern times: "The West is not yet ready for a black pope," he said.
However, German archbishop Ludwig Schick from Bamberg said on Wednesday that "it is time for a pope from a different (non-European) continent." He also reckoned that Ratzinger might stand a good chance to be elected to the highest office of the church.
Whether under Ratzinger or a non-European pope, however, Schick stressed it was unlikely that the church would give up its stance on the celibacy of priests and the ban of women from the priesthood.
The conclave, chaired by Ratzinger, is due to begin in the Sistine Chapel on 18 April.
Despite a number of distinguished candidates, however, predictions on the outcome of the vote were difficult as possible factions remain unclear: Just under half (58) of the 117 cardinals below 80 years of age, who are eligible to vote, hail from Europe.
Nonetheless, the European faction falls short of the necessary two-thirds majority, while the 21-strong group of cardinals from Latin America also makes up a significantly strong contingent.
Observers agree, meanwhile, that one result is virtually clear: there will be no North American pope. "An American pope, probably not," said Edward Egan, the archbishop of New York.
The reputation of the Catholic church in North America has suffered too much in the wake of numerous abuse scandals involving priests, experts said.
Opinions on possible church reforms are also mixed within the Catholic church, according to observers. While the demand for reforms came mostly from Germany and its neighbours "the picture is very different in the worldwide Catholic church," said a Rome theologian.
Philippines Bishop Ramon Arguelles also said he preferred a conservative pope: "We cannot have a liberal pope."
Meanwhile, Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, who was charged by Ratzinger in 1984 of mixing theology with politics in Latin America's liberation theology, said the new pope should not bring to his office "the arrogance and doctrinal fundamentalism" of the late pope.
The highest priority for the new leader of the Catholic church should be the fight against poverty and the destruction of the environment, said the ordained Franciscan priest, who resigned from the priesthood in 1992.
Even the Italian contingent - with 20 cardinals the strongest national group - did not offer any clear signs about which candidate was most likely to be the new bishop of Rome and official successor of Christ on earth.
The divisions amongst the Italian group might actually increase the chances for an outside candidate, according to observers who pointed out that John Paul II himself had been far from the front runner during his election in 1978.
If separate national groups should block progress in the voting process, however, the cardinals could also come back to Ratzinger as a possible compromise. After all, the Bavarian-born cardinal has already spent decades at the Vatican.
Subject: German news