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John Paul II's successor unlikely to usher in radical change

PHILADELPHIA—When the white smoke signaling the selection of a new pope rises over St. Peter's Square in a few weeks, chances are the man chosen to replace John Paul II will carry on his legacy, not radically alter it.

Consider the numbers.

Of the cardinals who can vote for a new pope, all but three were appointed by John Paul. He made a point of appointing like-minded conservatives while brooking no dissent.

"With the next pope, we will see more continuity than change," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America and author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church."

The big difference might be in style.

Some Vatican observers think that after John Paul's long papacy, the cardinals might look for someone with a less absolutist approach than the late pontiff, who was known to crack down on theologians who didn't follow the doctrinal line.

But in recent weeks, there have been news reports that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 77, had emerged as a candidate despite his age. The head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the German-born cardinal is the pope's chief enforcer on matters of moral theology. His selection, the reports say, would be aimed at establishing a transitional papacy.

When a pope is alive, people in the church hierarchy are forbidden even to discuss a possible successor. But now that John Paul is dead, the cardinals headed to Rome for his funeral can start campaigning for a successor to lead the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics.

The list of cardinals Vatican-watchers consider possible leading candidates for pope reflects the church's growth in the Third World, where Roman Catholicism, evangelical Protestantism and Islam vie for millions of followers.

The developing world now accounts for 42 percent of the church's cardinals, and some Vatican insiders believe a cardinal from Africa or Latin America could become the 265th successor to St. Peter.

There is general agreement on one thing: The next pope is unlikely to come from the United States.

At the top of the list of potential Third World candidates is Cardinal Francis Arinze, 72, of Nigeria, whose life, conversion to Christianity and views are covered in a book of interviews titled "God's Invisible Hand."

Other potential candidates come from Latin America, including Cardinal Claudio Hummes, 70, of Brazil; Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, 62, of Honduras; Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, 68, of Cuba; and Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 75, of Colombia.

Among Europeans, the names mentioned most in recent years include Cardinal Godfried Danneels, 71, of Belgium; Cardinal Walter Kasper, 71, of Germany; and Cardinal Christoph of Austria, the youngest at 60.

The potential Italian candidates—and there have to be a few, considering every pope came from Italy for 450 years before John Paul II's election in 1978—include Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, 78, the former archbishop of Milan; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 77, the Vatican secretary of state; and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, 71, a member of the Vatican curia. Re is prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Paddy Power, an Irish bookmaker, has the current archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, 71, as the favorite to become pope ahead of Arinze, the Nigerian, and Ortega, the Cuban.

But studying lists of potential candidates for the name of the next pope can be a fool's quest. Neither Albino Luciani nor Karol Wojtyla, who became John Paul I and John Paul II, figured in pre-conclave speculation. As an old Roman saying cautions: "He who goes into the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal."

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(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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