As Pope John Paul II continues his 11-day tour of the Americas to
Guatemala and Mexico this week, some Vatican observers suggest that
his third trip to the region in less than a decade is one indication
the next pope may be drawn from that part of the world.
Latin America is home to half the world's Catholics and several
strong papal candidates, including cardinals from Colombia, Brazil,
Honduras, and Cuba.
"The church is growing most in the Third World," notes Thomas
Williams, dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical
University in Rome. "To have a pope who is sensitive to the people
and issues that make up the demographic future of Catholicism would
be very important."
The pope arrives in Guatemala City Monday where he will canonize
a 17th century apostle, creating Central America's first saint. Some
700,000 pilgrims are expected to attend the ceremony. Massive crowds
are also expected for ceremonies in Mexico later in the week.
The Vatican recently signaled that Pope John Paul II will not
retire from his office. But that hasn't stopped growing discussion
in Rome and beyond about the future direction of the church, which
will depend in large part on the policies of the next pope. Among
the topics of debate: Will the successor uphold his conservative
line, or take a more liberal approach on a wide range of issues?
As the Catholic Church sex scandals have unfolded, many Catholics
in the US are publicly questioning not only how the church is
administered, but also a wide range of church policies, from the
celibacy of priests to bans on contraception and divorce.
After John Paul II's passing, a group of approximately 120
cardinals will vote in a series of secretive ballots held in the
Sistine Chapel. But Vatican experts both here and in the US expect
the next pontiff will be a moderate conservative and, quite
possibly, the first from the developing world.
"The next pope will likely hold the same positions on the
substantive issues as John Paul II does," says Thomas Reese, editor
of the Jesuit Weekly, America in New York.
How to become pope
To become pope, a candidate must win a two-thirds majority of the
votes of the cardinal electors, a gathering of all cardinals under
the age of 80. Usually it takes many rounds of balloting to produce
a winner, a process that can take weeks, even months, but is now
usually resolved in a few days.
Virtually all of the eligible cardinal electors have been
appointed by Pope John Paul II over the course of his nearly quarter-
century in power. Of the 122 eligible electors, he has appointed
117, leading some to assume the next pope will be very much like the
"People assume that because he's named [more than] 90 percent of
the electors, they will elect somebody like him," says Richard
McBrien, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.
"But that just doesn't happen in the history of papal elections. The
new pope will not be a photocopy of John Paul II."
During the 20th century, cardinals have often chosen popes quite
different from the one who appointed them. In 1903, cardinals
replaced the progressive Leo XIII with the reactionary Pius X, even
though most of them had been appointed by Leo during his 25-year
rule. Similarly, when the conservative Pius XII died in 1958,
cardinals elected John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council,
which modernized many church practices.
Most Vatican observers think that after a long, dramatic, and
occasionally divisive papacy, the cardinals will be looking for a
unifying figure, a theological conservative with a less hard-line
approach than John Paul II, who has cracked down on dissenting views
within the church.
"The next pope is not going to ordain women, is not going to
change the church's teaching on homosexuality, is not going to allow
homosexual unions, or let Catholics start using birth control," says
John L. …