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U.S. cardinals may play key roles in conclave

VATICAN CITY—The 11 American cardinals who will participate in picking the next pope largely are dismissed as likely successors to Pope John Paul II, even though their number makes them the second largest national bloc, after the 20 Italians.

Yet while speculation swirls around others—Italian, African or South American cardinals—the Americans, well known in the Vatican and many parts of the world, are still likely to wield major influence over who among the 117 voting cardinals will next sit on the Throne of St. Peter.

An American cardinal, John Krol, then the Polish-American archbishop of Philadelphia, is credited with the lobbying campaign that made his friend, Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II in 1978.

The American presence will be even larger in this conclave. And there's reason to think that the Americans will serve as bridge-builders as they introduce cardinals from different continents to one another.

"Justin Rigali was born for this moment," said Rocco Palmo, an authority on the Roman Catholic hierarchy who studied the Holy See at the University of Pennsylvania, referring to Philadelphia's archbishop.

Rigali spent 34 years in Rome, where he studied at the Vatican's diplomatic university and for many years headed the Vatican's English-language section, writing speeches for Popes Paul VI and John Paul II and accompanying them on their travels.

He also served for many years as secretary of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, which effectively chooses the bishops in all the world's dioceses.

"The name of just about every bishop and cardinal in today's church at one time passed over Rigali's desk," Palmo said. "He knows everybody."

Other American cardinals are well known throughout the church. Four are so-called curial cardinals, meaning they hold positions in the Vatican Curia or hierarchy. Seven, including Rigali, oversee large archdioceses: Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Washington's archbishop, is one of the Vatican's Western experts on the church in Asia, especially China, and is friends with most of the 13 Asian cardinals. He'll be in a position to introduce them to other cardinals, which is how coalitions form.

Introductions will be important at this conclave, because many of the cardinals don't know one another. More than half the electors—65—have been appointed since 2001, and only rarely spend time with those outside their countries. Only 79 votes are needed to reach the two-thirds majority that probably will elect the next pope.

Another American cardinal who could play the role of bridge-builder is the staunchly conservative Bernard Law, who's highly esteemed in Rome even though he was forced to resign as archbishop of Boston after news reports that he repeatedly reassigned sexually abusive priests to other parishes. He's now archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome.

Although regarded in some quarters as aloof, even arrogant—he once told a liberal reformer, "If you prayed, you would agree with me"—the Harvard-educated Law has a reputation for keen intellect and compassion for the poor and migrants.

His forced resignation at the hands of the news media has given him the added merit of martyrdom, and, like Rigali, his position on the Congregation for Bishops—as well the Congregations for Clergy, Consecrated Life, Catholic Education and Divine Worship—make him a popular and influential Vatican insider.

Cardinal Edward Egan, the archbishop of New York, also knows Rome well. A civil and church lawyer, he spent much of the 1980s and `90s helping to revise the church's code of canon law, and later served on the Roman Rota, the church's second highest court. He was so esteemed by Pope John Paul II that the pope personally named him New York's archbishop when the Congregation of Bishops couldn't decide.

A man of considerable financial and administrative skills, he's viewed by some of his colleagues as formal and cerebral—and an Italian opera lover. "He never lost his affinity for Rome," Palmo said.

Cardinal Edmund Szoka, the administrator of Vatican City and a former archbishop of Detroit, was brought to Rome in the early 1990s to administer Vatican finances. He also was responsible for administering about $100 million a year in contributions to Rome from dioceses and other sources in the United States.

Like his successor in Detroit, Cardinal Adam Maida, he was known as part of Pope John Paul's "Polish mafia," and both are thought to have friendships with cardinals in Eastern Europe, though neither is thought to be likely to exercise much influence in the conclave.

Other American cardinals have staked out positions that may lessen their influence. Cardinal William Keeler, the archbishop of Baltimore, upset some in the Vatican in 2002 when he posted on a Web site the names of all the priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles is the only American cardinal who's gone on record saying the church should reconsider its ban on married clergy.

Few expect the Americans to act in concert, in any case. "The Americans will not act as a group," said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who's next in line to be president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"The most important thing is the church and our faith, not our nation-state," he said. "Nation-states divide."


The following American cardinals will vote in the conclave:

_ William Wakefield Baum, 78, retired as Vatican's major penitentiary and prefect for Catholic education, former Washington archbishop.

_ Edward Egan, 73, archbishop of New York.

_ Francis George, 68, archbishop of Chicago.

_ Bernard Law, 73, former archbishop of Boston, now archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome.

_ William Keeler, 74, archbishop of Baltimore.

_ Roger Mahony, 69, archbishop of Los Angeles.

_ Adam Maida, 75, archbishop of Detroit.

_ Theodore McCarrick, 74, archbishop of Washington.

_ Justin Rigali, 69, archbishop of Philadelphia.

_ James Stafford, 72, Vatican-based leader of Apostolic Penitentiary, former archbishop of Denver.

_ Edmund Szoka, 77, governor of Vatican City, former Detroit archbishop.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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