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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October, 2003, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
The numbers game at the Vatican

Peter Gould
BBC News Online correspondent in the Vatican City

By creating a new batch of cardinals, John Paul II has once again influenced the election of the Pope who will follow him.

Consistory on St Peter's Square
The cardinals' key task will be to elect a new Pope
Of the 30 cardinals receiving the red hats that symbolise their office, 26 are currently under the age of 80.

This is significant because once they reach that age they are no longer allowed to take part in the conclave, the secret meeting that elects a new Pope.

So the new faces joining the College of Cardinals will increase the number of electors from 109 to 135.

Much of the speculation about the identity of the next Pope will be focused on his nationality. John Paul II was the first non-Italian Pope in four-and-a-half centuries.

But while he is being talked of as one of the great Popes, many Catholics in this country would like to see the papacy back in Italian hands.

NEW COLLEGE
Number of cardinals: 194
Oldest: 100 years
Youngest: 51 years
Number of voters: 135
Voters appointed by John Paul II: 96.3
In recent years, however, the number of cardinals from Italy has steadily declined, along with their influence in the conclave.

There are six Italians in the new batch of cardinals, taking the country's total up to 23. But that is still only 17% of the electoral body.

Taking all the European cardinals together, including the Italians, they still account for almost half the voters.

Since the election of John Paul II in 1978, the percentage of cardinals from Eastern Europe has doubled.

Developing world influence

Cardinals from the developing world make up about 38% of the electors, with the largest number coming from Latin America, where nearly half of the world's Catholics now live.

So if they choose to vote together, cardinals from some of the world's poorer countries could play a decisive role in choosing the next Pope.

Bishop Roger Kaffer
Bishop Roger would love to see an African pope
In these nations, issues of sexual morality - frequently debated in Western nations - may be of less concern than social justice and human rights.

"Geography is one factor in a complicated cocktail," says John Allen, the Vatican correspondent of National Catholic Reporter.

"There is also age, the question of charisma and holiness, and where one stands on doctrinal issues.

"Many cardinals would love to elect someone out of the third world, because it would be a powerful symbol of solidarity and support for victims of globalisation.

"But that does not exclude the hypothesis of an Italian or a European, or someone from any other point of the compass."

Hot favourites

In fact, the current favourite in the papal sweepstakes is an Italian.

The Archbishop of Milan, Dionigi Tettamanzi, is given odds of 2-1 by one bookmaker.

Cardinal Turcotte
Cardinal Turcotte says nationality isn't important
Close behind is the Archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega y Alamino (4-1) and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria (6-1).

The number of Latin Americans who are now spoken of as "papabile" - the Italian word for a possible pope - is an indication of a growing belief that the next Pope could well come from this part of the world.

Names now being mentioned, in addition to the Cuban cardinal, include Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras), Jorge Bergoglio (Argentina), and Claudio Hummes (Brazil).

Much is made of the fact that John Paul II has now appointed all but five of the 135 electors.

But while many share his conservative views, it should not be assumed that the next Pope will be a carbon copy of John Paul II.

The latest group of cardinals include several who are regarded as conservative, in terms of doctrine. But a number of others are seen as moderates or progressives.

"I think it really reinforces the currents already in the College of Cardinals," says John Allen.

"I do not think it changes the electoral calculus much, because this group is fairly internally diversified.

"Most of them are men from pastoral situations that are quite unique, and absorb most of their energies. They focus on issues outside rather than inside the Church."

Requirements

Senior figures in the Church now talk cautiously about the kind of man they would like to see succeed John Paul II.

"I would love to see a black African pope, because the Church is for everybody," said Bishop Roger Kaffer, from Joliet, Illinois.

"But I am not a cardinal, so I will not have a vote!"

One man who is eligible to help elect the next pope is the Archbishop of Montreal, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte.

During a break in talks being held by cardinals at the Vatican, he told me the best man for the job would be the one who could best give the message of Jesus Christ to the world.

"There are many candidates who can do that," he said.

"For me, the nationality of the one who is elected is not important."




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