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Third World pope may now be more likely

By Associated Press
Published September 30, 2003

VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II's selection of 31 new cardinals has cemented the conservative line of the group that will pick his successor, but it has also broadened it geographically and increased the possibility of a Third World pope, experts said Monday.

Cardinals new and old will have their first chance to size one another up when they gather in three weeks for the 25th anniversary of John Paul's pontificate and the formal consistory to give the new cardinals their red hats - an event many are calling a preconclave.

The pope appointed the 31 Sunday, bringing to at least 135 the number of voting-age members of the College of Cardinals, the elite band of churchmen who will select the next pontiff when John Paul dies, almost certainly from within their own ranks. The college actually has 195 members now, but only those under age 80 are eligible to vote.

John Paul's selection contained few surprises, and didn't alter the theological makeup of the electors, all but five of whom have been named by the current pope. They follow his conservative line on major issues such as abortion and the death penalty.

However, not all cardinals view themselves as mere rubber stamps for papal policy.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann waited years for his red hat, despite his position as head of the German Bishops Conference. Some viewed the delay as a show of displeasure for frequent calls by the German bishops for the Vatican to fully allow divorced and remarried Catholics back into the Church.

Cardinal Godfried Danneels, a Belgian cardinal viewed as a possible papal candidate, has spoken out forcefully on the need for greater "collegiality," a Vatican code word for greater democracy in John Paul's very centralized church.

John Paul's new selections shifted slightly the geographic distribution of the papal electors.

Africa got three new cardinals, from Ghana, Sudan and Nigeria. Latin America also added three, from Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala, as did Asia, with one new cardinal each from India, Japan and Vietnam.

However, the so-called Third World contingent lost ground proportionally, because John Paul increased the overall size of the electoral pool.

Europe increased its proportion slightly, now holding 48.9 percent of the electoral seats. Italy still has by far the largest individual bloc, with 23 voting-age cardinals, although its overall percentage slipped from the last conclave in 2001, Reese noted.

When Pope Paul VI was elected in 1963, there were 29 Italians in the 80-member conclave, or 36 percent. That figure is now down to 16 percent.

The Polish-born John Paul was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, and Vatican observers say that with an increasingly globalized College of Cardinals, the next pope may be non-Italian as well, perhaps from the developing world. Latin Americans are the largest geographic bloc after the Europeans in the college, and they minister to half the world's 1-billion Roman Catholics. In Africa and Asia, the church is directing missionary activities to expand its numbers.

"The church of the 21st century will be brown and black," said R. Scott Appleby, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. "The church is growing rapidly in Africa, it is an enormous presence in Latin America, and it's growing in Asia, while the church in Europe and North America is barely holding its own at diminished levels of participation."

John Paul has worked to elevate more cardinals from the developing world, increasing the possibility one of them may eventually be pope. However, there is no way to predict how anyone will vote once the secret balloting gets under way.

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