Pope acts to protect legacy

The pope sought to ­secure his conservative ­legacy in the Vati­can last weekend by ­naming an unprecedented 37 new cardinals to join the college that will eventually choose his successor.

The move by John Paul II (80), who is known to have Parkinson’s ­disease, is being seen as possibly his last attempt to ensure that the men who will choose his successor from among their number will elect someone in his image as a ­theo­logically and socially conservative leader. Two churchmen are being appointed in pectore —in the breast.
Their names are not being disclosed for fear they will be persecuted.

But the pope lamented the fact that he could not find room for still more appointees “whose dedication to the service of God’s people merits a ­promotion to the dignity of cardinal.” “I hope to have the opportunity in future to show also in this manner to them and to the countries from which they come my esteem and my affection,” he said.

The rank of cardinal is second only to that of pope. It is the cardinals—or at least those under the age of 80—who are locked away in conclave after each pope’s death to choose a successor, with a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the apostolic palace next to St Peter’s ­traditionally showing that they have reached their decision. The laborious voting—the successful candidate must achieve a two-thirds majority—is highly political, even though the cardinals are supposed to be secluded from outside pressure and guided only by God.

All popes try to point the cardinals towards a successor who will continue their legacy—but few have been as determined as John Paul II. Just as he has named more saints than any of his predecessors, he has also appointed more cardinals ­during his reign—195, though not all ­survive, and some are over 80 and therefore ineligible to vote. The list shows the changing ­global balance of the church: 11 new cardinals from Latin America and six more from Asia and Africa.

John Wilkins, editor of the Catholic weekly The Tablet, said: “It is a much longer list than ­expected. I would have thought it is inconceivable that the pope would not have scrutinised the names very carefully to ensure they are in sympathy with his thinking.”

The new cardinals will gather in Rome next month for the consistory— a ceremonial meeting of cardinals—at which the pope will formally ­appoint them and give them the traditional scarlet hat and robes and ring to signify their office as princes of the church. The gathering is expected to take place on February 22, the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. Cardinals, who are usually appointed from the rank of bishop or archbishop, are meant to be men “outstanding in doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters”.

Until the 16th century, popes could choose their relatives or favourites—even very young men or children—but the rules have been tightened since then. With no obvious successor commanding wide enough support to gain the required majority, the race to be next pope is regarded as wide open. Senior Catholics are already saying that the preferred candidate of the church’s liberals, Cardinal ­Carlo Maria Martini of Milan, now has no chance of succeeding—although they are taking solace in the know­ledge that previous conclaves have not always gone the way the popes who appointed them would have liked, ­appointing liberal candidates instead of reactionary ones and vice versa.

Of the nominees, Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation of Bishops and former deputy secretary of state at the Vatican, can be expected to ally himself with other Vatican insiders in pushing for a conservative candidate. He is spoken of as a future pope, though probably not next time. The Archbishop of Lima, Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, is the first open member of the secretive and highly reactionary Opus Dei movement to be made a cardinal and he can be expected to wield strong influence with his fellow Latin Americans.

In the words of The Next Pope, a book on the papacy by Peter Hebbleth­waite and his wife, Margaret: “Whatever happens inside the conclave, no one is going to have more influence on its outcome than the one man who will not be there: John Paul II. He cannot himself choose his succes­sor but he has chosen the ­people who will be the ones to choose his successor.”

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