VATICAN CITY—Who's going to be the next pope?
If the competition were a horserace, here's what it would look like up to now, through the lens primarily of the Italian press:
German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had an early lead, but seemed to lose it on the turn to Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Italian who is vicar of Rome. Ruini was then outpaced by Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan, who has a reputation for being a moderate.
That reinvigorated Ratzinger, a noted conservative, but also created a tangle that may open a hole in the stretch for a run by Portuguese Cardinal Jose Da Kruz Policarpo, Chilean Cardinal Errazuriz Ossa and Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos.
Throughout it all Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze has remained close to the front of the pack.
The conclave of 115 cardinals that begins Monday to pick a pope is, of course, a very serious and somber occasion and not a horserace. But that hasn't stopped the handicapping of the likely outcome in the days since Pope John Paul II was buried, even though news accounts have been vague about the sources of their information.
"No one, officially, talks, but things are said around the edges," explained John L. Allen, a veteran Vatican journalist for the National Catholic Reporter and author of "Conclave," a book that explains the process. "Nothing is said directly, of course."
The cardinals met every day between the pope's funeral and Saturday in so-called "congregations" that Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls described as friendly, profitable and non-political and which were the source for much of the information about who is ahead in the papal competition.
"The climate of these congregations has been one of great familiarity," he said. "This has been perhaps an expression of the great responsibility that all the cardinals feel at this time. That allowed them to find great consensus on the general themes faced in the discussions.
"I can also confirm that in no congregation were names ever brought up."
That doesn't mean there weren't some pretty juicy rumors making the rounds. Take one from late last week:
Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of the Roman suburb of Terni, it was whispered, provided some snazzy apartments in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood to several cardinals from Africa and Asia for use before the conclave.
If they, in turn, decided to express their gratitude by remembering Cardinal Tettamanzi in balloting, and if Tettamanzi won, well, Bishop Paglia might just find himself rewarded by being named Cardinal Vicar of Rome: one of the most powerful posts in the hierarchy, and one that just happens to oversee about $1 billion in annual contributions to the Catholic Church.
Is that true? Who knows. Tettamanzi's opponents might have been circulating the apartment rumor to make him look bad. But if it were true, it would surprise no one. As the newspaper Il Tempo noted, such deal making "happens at every conclave."
Midweek, the rumor started flying that Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had once surrendered two Jesuit priests to the Argentine military government and that the priests had vanished. Problem was it was false. Calls to Amnesty International and to the Jesuits revealed that the men had never been abducted, and are currently working in Argentina. Bergoglio might even win some sympathy for that low blow.
As might be expected, news organizations rarely agreed on what the cardinals were saying to one another. Perhaps the only bit of conventional wisdom everyone agreed on was that the next pope wouldn't be from the United States. The head of the world's most powerful church should not come from the world's only superpower.
As for the big question, who will win, the frontrunner has changed several times.
Ratzinger was seen as a favorite early, partly because of his moving homily at John Paul's funeral. But soon Tettamanzi was being heralded as the clear choice, "a good man, with much pastoral experience as well as a good knowledge of the Curia," according to the French newspaper "Liberation." Another French daily, Le Figaro, agreed that, "the Italians are the favorites."
By Wednesday, Ratzinger was back in the lead, the Italian press reported, perhaps with as many as 50 votes already in hand (77 are needed for election), though perhaps in a close race with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, another Italian. Several papers also reported momentum building behind Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria and Cardinal Charles Pell of Australia.
By Friday, Ratzinger's popularity apparently was falling, the papers agreed. Resurgent was Tettamanzi, a suggestion that Corriere della Sera's Borsino dei Vaticanisti (roughly, The Vatican Insider's Exchange) column noted came from "two Italian papers very distant from each other in most respects—Libero and La Repubblica."
On Saturday, a compromise candidate seemed likely. Two papers suggested that could be Colombian Castrillon Hoyos. A third suggested Chilean Errazuriz Ossa.
On Sunday, Ratzinger was once again the frontrunner, with Tettamanzi a close second.
Online bookmakers seem to have focused on Ratzinger as the frontrunner, at between three and five to one odds. Cuban Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega is at 40 to one.
One oddsmaker, Paddypower.com, even offers a double: pick the pope and the name he'll choose. Ratzinger picking John Paul comes in at 16-1, while Arinze taking the name Franciscus brings a tidy 300 to one.
And, of course, given the accuracy of everything thus far, there are Americans on the board, starting at 80 to one.
A CONCLAVE Q&A
Q. When does the conclave begin?
A. The cardinals process into the Sistine Chapel to begin the conclave at 4:30 p.m. Monday Rome time (10:30 a.m. EDT). The procession will be televised, the Vatican said. After that, the cardinals will be sequestered in the Vatican until a pope has been selected.
Q. How long will the conclave take?
A. There is no time limit, though conclaves in recent years generally have taken less than five days. The cardinals vote four times a day, until one candidate has won the support of two-thirds of the 115 cardinal electors—77 votes. If no pope has been picked after 12 days, then the candidate carrying a simple majority, 58 votes, will be declared the winner.
Q. What time of day are we likely to know the results of the balloting?
A. The cardinals vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. Vatican officials say the results of those votes will be made public—through the burning of the ballots—at approximately noon and 7 p.m. Rome time (6 a.m. and 1 p.m. EDT). Black smoke indicates no pope has been agreed on. White smoke announces that a selection has been made.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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