Pope's Illness Stirs Talk of Succession; Latin American Possible

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 3, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Pope's Illness Stirs Talk of Succession; Latin American Possible


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.

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