Potential Successors to Pope John Paul II

"Tip O'Neill was correct," says Father Tom Reese, editor in chief of America, the Catholic weekly magazine. "All politics is local... even in the Catholic Church."

Reese suggests that instead of focusing on the possible papal candidates as a bookie would look at horses in the starting gate, try to think about the election from the point of view of the electors, the cardinals who cast the votes.

"Each cardinal is thinking, how will this candidate go over in my diocese?" Reese says. "If you're from the Third World, you're concerned with people who are starving and suffering from the negative impact of globalization of the economy. You'll want a pope who will speak out for social justice, forgiveness of Third World debt and be willing to stand up to the American superpower."

Cardinals from Africa and Asia, he says, are confronted by growing Islamic fundamentalism. They will want a pope who understands Islam and will not use inflammatory words like "crusade," as did President George W. Bush. They want a pope who, like John Paul II, will support dialogue with Muslims but at the same time stand up for the rights of Catholics.

On the other hand, he says, in Latin America there are few Muslims. Their concern is the Evangelicals and Pentecostals who are "stealing their sheep."

In North America and Europe, the cardinals will want a pope who supports ecumenical dialogue with Protestants and Jews. Given the growing alienation of educated women, they would also want someone who projects an understanding of women's concerns. The last thing they would want, for example, is a pope who decided to get rid of altar girls. The American cardinals would also want someone who understands and supports what they are doing to deal with the sexual abuse crisis.

It's a safe bet that an American will not be elected pope. Reese suggests three reasons. One is that Americans are not great linguists. Some U.S. bishops speak Spanish, but Reese says a pope needs to speak several languages, preferably including Italian and French.

The second, far weightier reason involves the reaction from the Third World. "There's a love-hate relationship with the U.S.," Reese says. "On the one hand, everyone wants to move to the U.S., but they're often not pleased with American foreign policy." He says the Catholic Church is concerned about its relationship with other faiths, especially Islam; and at this point, a U.S. pope would go over poorly in the Muslim world.

The final reason for an American shutout comes from history -- in particular, the lessons learned from giving the papacy to a citizen of the world's superpower at any given point in time. The electors shied away from Italian popes during the Roman Empire, from Spanish popes during Spain's dominance. And, Reese notes, "when they elected a French Pope" (Clement V in 1305), "he moved the church to Avignon."

The College of Cardinals began its conclave to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II on April 18.

The Men to Watch

Below is an assessment of some of the top candidates, by region, as viewed by Reese and John L. Allen, the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. The names are not in order of electability.


Francis Arinze (Nigeria, born 11/1/1932). Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Cardinal Arinze is at the top of most Vatican-watchers' short list, and the prospect of a "black Pope" has captivated the media. Arinze was born into the Ibo tribe of Nigeria -- his father was a chief -- and converted to Catholicism at age nine. Arinze became a priest when he was 26, and an archbishop at 34. Arinze's strengths include his experience with Protestants and other religions. Protestants and Catholics share much of southern Nigeria, allowing him to hone his ecumenism; in the north of the country, Arinze has developed a good relationship with the Muslim majority. With this background, Pope John Paul II called him to Rome to oversee the Vatican's inter-religious dialogue (with Muslims, Buddhists, etc).

Arinze is conservative theologically, charismatic and sophisticated with a sharp sense of humor. Electing an African pope would appeal to the fastest growing part of the Church -- the Southern Hemisphere. And it would signal that the Church is not just Catholic but catholic -- universal -- no longer a European church.

Wilfrid Fox Napier (South Africa, 3/8/1941). Archbishop of Durban. Ordained at 28, Napier became a cardinal at 58. A quiet man, Napier has seen his share of upheaval: He was archbishop through apartheid, and, as a close friend of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he also witnessed at close range the rise of the independence movement in South Africa. He has a strong ecumenical record, and his election would also symbolize the church's transition to the Third World. But he is young, and not widely known.


Dionigi Tettamanzi (Italy, 3/14/1934). Archbishop of Milan. This man, too, is at the top of everyone's list. Ordained at age 20, and a Cardinal at 63, Tettamanzi appeals to the media and to fellow priests for his personable, low-key style. He is a conservative moral theologian who agrees with Pope John Paul II's views on birth control and sexual matters. He spent 32 years teaching future priests and running seminaries in Milan and Rome.

Some believe that after the long papacy of John Paul of Poland, it's time to elevate an Italian to the papacy. Currently there are 20 Italian cardinals who are eligible to vote, making the Italian contingent the largest voting bloc. And Italy (along with France) embodies the decline of Catholicism in Europe; some observers believe that electing an Italian Pope would spark a greater effort to, as John Allen puts it, "bring prodigal European Catholics back to the fold."

Giovanni Battista Re (Italy, 1/30/1934). Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops (which recommends bishops for the various dioceses). Ordained at 23, he became an archbishop at 53. He also served in the Secretariat of State under Paul VI, responsible for the day-to-day management of church affairs. This job has been in the past a springboard to the papacy, and Re is considered a strong Italian candidate. His downside is that he has always served in the Vatican, and never served as a diocesan bishop, which is a typical qualification for the papacy. Re has exhibited conservative tendencies; for example, he demanded disciplinary action for a priest who took part in a pro-gay rally. However, he is by and large seen as a moderate, and has signaled his support for decentralizing the church. Re could appeal to those looking for a compromise candidate.

Angelo Scola (Italy, 11/7/1941). Patriarch of Venice. Ordained at 28, Scola became a cardinal in 2003. Polished and approachable, Scola is considered an intellectual: He studied at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and speaks fluent English, as well as several other languages. His particular interest is bioethics and the "culture of life," and he could be expected to be a vigorous advocate of conservative church teachings in that area. Scola told CNN in 2003 that the main challenge to the church is the "fracture" between the church and contemporary culture: "It's very difficult to determine whether this is the fault of the world that has abandoned the church, or the church that does not know how to relate to the world." Allen suggests that Scola is a strong candidate.

Ennio Antonelli (Italy, 11/18/1936) Archbishop of Florence. Ordained at 23, archbishop at 45. Should Antonelli be elected, he would travel the same little-used path as Pope John Paul II -- as an outsider seen more as a pastor than a politician or diplomat. According to Allen, Antonelli has struggled in his relations with the curia and the Italian bishops' conference, where he served as secretary. His special interests are peace and justice. On doctrinal issues, he is orthodox, although he has shown moderation in applying doctrine. For example, he defended divorced Italian politicians, arguing that the church should care more about their policy stands than their personal behavior. He loves the arts, and taught art for several years in Italian public schools.


Godfried Danneels (Belgium, 6/4/1933). Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. Danneels was ordained when he was 24, and became a cardinal at 49. Danneels, 71, had a serious heart attack in 1997, which calls his health into question.

Danneels speaks several languages well, including Italian and English. He's a favorite of liberal reformers, as he has expressed what (to this Vatican) are radical ideas. For example, he has suggested that those infected with AIDS should use condoms. He told Allen that he is open to appointing women to run curial agencies. He has advocated that sick or incapacitated popes retire rather than serve for life. And contrary to the pessimism that pervades the church over Western secularism, he has said that there is much of value in Western culture.

Lubomyr Husar (Ukraine, 2/26/1933) Major Archbishop of Lviv for Ukrainians. Husar was ordained at age 25, and became cardinal at 67. This could be the only "American" candidate: Husar fled Ukraine with his parents in 1944, and became a U.S. citizen. He earned a masters degree in social work at Fordham University; he returned to Ukraine in 1978. He's considered a long shot: After the long papacy of a Pole, many believe it unlikely that the electors will choose another East European -- and an erstwhile American to boot. (Husar gave up his U.S. citizenship in 2002. Moreover, Husar would have to move from the Ukrainian church to the Roman Church. But he is very bright, very spiritual, and very popular among fellow Cardinals. And he has presided over a church with married priests, which could kick up some dust on the issue of celibacy.

Walter Kasper (Germany, 3/5/1933). President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. Kasper became a priest at 24 and a bishop at 56. Kasper is considered an intellectual and theological heavyweight, having studied at Tubingen (the "big leagues" of European theological academia), and later teaching at Catholic University of America as a visiting professor. He has jousted often and publicly with German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the dean of the College of Cardinals and one of the most powerful men in Rome. Kasper leans toward the progressive, reformist end of the spectrum, for example, encouraging divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to return to the sacraments. He has indicated he would like to see a decentralization of the curia. Along with his intellect, Kasper is known for his kind and open manner.

Joseph Ratzinger (Germany, 4/16/1927). Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Probably the best known cardinal in the world, Ratzinger enjoyed a close personal and philosophical relationship with Pope John Paul II. Ratzinger was the pope's chief theological advisor, and was also the Vatican’s policeman of doctrinal purity, defending orthodoxy and cracking down on theologians who have strayed (mainly to the left ) of Vatican moral teaching.

Ratzinger entered seminary during World War II, but in 1943, he was drafted as an assistant to a Nazi anti-aircraft unit. He deserted the German army in 1945, and shortly after the war, re-entered seminary. Ordained in 1951, Ratzinger was in his early years in the priesthood a progressive; but after the student revolution in 1968, he shifted to the right. John Paul II appointed him to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981.

Ratzinger has been described as a "shy and gentle soul," an accomplished pianist with a preference for Mozart, and fluent in several languages. A Ratzinger papacy would extend the conservative legacy of John Paul II.

Christoph Schönborn (Austria, 1/22/1945). Archbishop of Vienna. Ordained at 25 and a cardinal at 53, Schönborn comes from a priestly background: Over the centuries, some 19 members of his family have been archbishops, bishops or priests. He is fluent in several languages, including English, Italian and French, as well as German, and has traveled widely around the world. His aristocratic sensibilities have not always served him well, however. In recent years, he has made political stumbles in his own archdiocese, and has developed a reputation for being rigid in his theological views. Still, some Vatican watchers consider him the man of the future.


Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Argentina, 12/17/1936), archbishop of Buenos Aires. Trained as a chemist, Bergoglio became a priest when he was 32 and an archbishop in 1998. Bergoglio is a Jesuit, which would make him an unusual and perhaps controversial choice for the papacy. His academic credentials abound: He pursued theological studies in Germany, has published three books and has served as grand chancellor of The Catholic University in Argentina.

Bergoglio has been praised as being a "good pastor" with a "strong capacity for governance with unusual gifts of humility." Indeed, the archbishop shuns a chauffeur-driven limousine, in favor of public transportation.

Cláudio Hummes (Brazil, 8/8/1934). Archbishop of Sao Paolo. Ordained at 23 and a cardinal at 66, Hummes began his career as a progressive, opposing Brazil's military government and supporting worker strikes. He became more conservative under Pope John Paul II. In July 2000, when a Brazilian priest suggested that condoms could be justified to fight AIDS, Hummes threatened disciplinary action. Yet he still has strong social justice inclinations, arguing that people should organize to defend their rights, and often reminding government leaders that the church defends private property, but "with social responsibility." Many believe his balance of doctrinal orthodoxy and social engagement would make him an appealing candidate for Pope.

Norberto Rivera Carrera (Mexico, 6/6/1942). Archbishop of Mexico City. Ordained at 24, Cardinal at 55, Rivera Carrera has been outspoken against globalization, poverty, and political corruption in Mexico. He taught ecclesiology at the Pontifical University of Mexico in the 1980s, and since 1995, he has served as Archbishop of Mexico City, one of the most complex archdioceses in the world. Although he has strong social justice credentials, Rivera Carrera is a conservative on virtually all church matters; for example, he closed a seminary that he said was teaching Marxism under the guise of liberation theology.

Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras, 12/29/1942). Archbishop of Tegucigalpa. Ordained at 27 and an archbishop at 50, Rodriguez Maradiaga is seen as a rising star in the Latin American church. His main handicap could be his youth: The electors may not want to repeat Pope John Paul II's long legacy. As with other Latin American candidates, Rodriguez Maradiaga is a strong advocate of social justice. According to John Allen, he is "one of the world's leading champions of debt relief for developing nations. In June 1999, Rodriguez Maradiaga and rock star Bono, from U2, joined forces at a G8 meeting to present a petition with 17 million signatures demanding debt relief. Rodriguez Maradiaga is also an advocate for women and improved race relations, and generally strives to be a voice of conscience within the process of globalization."


Ivan Dias (India, 4/14/1936). Archbishop of Bombay (Mumbai). Dias was ordained at 22 and became an archbishop at 60. This is possibly the most globe-trotting of all candidates. Dias rose through the Vatican's diplomatic ranks with postings in Ghana, Togo, Benin, Korea and Albania. He also served in the Holy See's embassies in Scandinavia, Indonesia and Madagascar. He worked in the Secretariat of State as the desk officer for countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, including China and the then-Soviet Union. He speaks a little bit of at least 16 languages.

Dias is thus cosmopolitan and fluent in world affairs. But he is also conservative -- shunning, for example, the theology of religious pluralism so common in India. He takes a conservative line on abortion, has called homosexuality a disease of the soul.

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