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Vatican watcher discusses papal contenders -

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Vatican watcher discusses papal contenders

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: I'm joined now by Father Tom Reese, editor in chief of America magazine - a national
Catholic weekly in the US. Father Reese has written widely on the church. His books include Inside
the Vatican: The Politics and Organisation of the Catholic Church. Father Reese joins us from Rome.
Thomas Reese, thanks for being here.


TONY JONES: I looked at one web site today in which you nominate some of the men among the
cardinals who could be serious candidates for Pope. Interestingly, the man who is now being talked
about as the favourite, Cardinal Ratzinger, is not on your list. Can you tell us why?

THOMAS REESE: Well, Cardinal Ratzinger is an extremely prominent theologian who is highly respected
by the other members of the College of Cardinals. I think that he has a couple of problems, though,
in terms of being elected Pope. Number one is I don't think he wants the job. He has been trying to
retire for the last two years, and John Paul II wouldn't let him retire. Secondly, his age. He is
78 years of age, and I question whether the cardinals will want to elect an elderly man who will
soon become older and weak and sick, and we're right back to where we've been for the last few
years, with an elderly, sick Pope heading the church. And finally, Cardinal Ratzinger brings a lot
of baggage to the papacy if he was elected. He's a controversial figure among Catholic theologians
and the academia because he has been involved in silencing theologians. Academia doesn't think that
he has respect for academic freedom, which, of course, they cherish very much.

TONY JONES: What do you think of the popular idea expressed quite often these days in columns that
there's a real battle being waged in the conclave now for the very soul of the church?

THOMAS REESE: Well, that's probably putting it a little strongly. I think you have to realise that
all but two of the 115 cardinals that are going to be choosing the next Pope were appointed by John
Paul II, and he did exactly what you or I would do if we were Pope - he appointed people that were
in basic agreement with him on the important issues that face the church. So I think, you know, in
the next papacy, we're going to see a lot more continuity than we're going to see change in terms
of teaching and policies. On the other hand, we're going to have a very different personality as
Pope, because there's nobody like John Paul II in the College of Cardinals.

TONY JONES: But if it comes to something like a face-off between progressives and conservatives,
you're saying essentially the conservatives are bound to win?

THOMAS REESE: Well, you know, it's hard to divide up the college between progressives and
conservatives. You know, I think a lot of them are very much like John Paul II - very liberal when
it comes to issues of peace and justice. For example, he opposed the war in Iraq. He's against
capital punishment. He was a big supporter of the United Nations and wants the First World to give
more money and development to the Third World. All of these things in the United States - and I
presume in Australia - would be to the very left wing, and he probably couldn't win an election. On
the other hand, when it comes to church teaching, church doctrine, church practice, he's been very
traditional, and I think that probably whoever gets elected Pope will be very much like that.

TONY JONES: Perhaps you can help us speculate a little bit about what's actually happening inside
the conclave. There is one theory doing the rounds at the moment that the conservatives are firming
up behind Ratzinger and the progressives have actually picked a candidate who has no chance at all
of winning, the idea being to force all the voters to consider a third choice, a compromise
candidate. I mean, do you have any sense that that's what might be happening?

THOMAS REESE: Well, this wouldn't be the first time that something like that happened. Often in
conclaves in the past, we've had two candidates who were very strong going into the conclave, but
neither of them could get the two-thirds vote necessary to be elected. As a result, they had to
look for someone else, someone who could be a compromise, a consensus candidate. With this
conclave, though, despite all the things that were written in the Italian press, I don't think
there were any real leading candidates. I think what's happening right now is as the cardinals
vote, they're finally finding out how many votes there are for each candidate. A lot of cardinals
are going to discover that the man that's their first choice doesn't have a chance, and so they're
going to start looking at the alternatives, the people who have more votes, and gradually, you
know, some of the key ones will gain votes, until someone has the momentum that carries them all
the way to the two-thirds vote. That's what I think's going on inside the conclave right now.

TONY JONES: Does the new voting system brought in by the last Pope make it more attractive for
voting blocs not to seek a compromise candidate because they can hang out until the voting system
changes to 50 per cent plus one, which makes it easier for a less popular candidate, presumably?

THOMAS REESE: Yes I mean, John Paul II changed the rules for electing a Pope. You know, the
tradition for over 800 years, all the time that the College of Cardinals has selected the Pope, has
been that you needed a two-thirds majority vote to be elected, and that forced a lot of compromises
over the centuries. Now, John Paul II changed the rules so that after about 30 votes, which could
take about 12 days, they can vote to suspend the rules and elect the Pope by a majority vote. Now,
what could happen is I think what you're indicating. Early on, if someone gets a majority vote, say
on the eighth ballot or something like that, everybody's going to know that all his supporters have
to do is sit tight and they can wait and elect him by a majority vote. I don't think that's going
to happen because I think the minority will soon recognise, "Okay, this is the man who's going to
be Pope. Why make him angry? Why scandalise the people by staying in here for 12 days? Let's vote
for him and go home." So I think the change of the rules could have an impact, even if they're
never invoked, even if they never go to the full 30 votes.

TONY JONES: I don't want to get too conspiratorial here, but do you think there might be a sort of
proxy dirty war going on? We're starting to hear stories being floated in the press about some of
the candidates - for example, in Buenos Aires, trying to link Cardinal Bergoglio to the kidnapping
of two priests during the military dictatorship there, and Ratzinger himself is now being linked to
a letter from the Vatican instructing bishops to handle sexual abuse cases in the most secretive
ways. Both of these, in a sense, are very serious allegations. Are they extremely damaging to those
candidates, do you think?

THOMAS REESE: Well, you know, this is one of the problems when the College of Cardinals decided not
to speak to the press. The result is the Italian press just creates all sorts of stories, all sorts
of rumours, and it makes it very difficult to get really good advice and good intelligence on
what's going on. It's a very funny system to elect a Pope. You know, there's rumours about this
cardinal and that cardinal, which cardinals speak English and which don't. It's a kind of a messy
system. I think that's one of the good reasons to lock up the cardinals inside the Vatican, so they
can have a chance to talk to each other and not be distracted by everything else that's going on

TONY JONES: So you don't think that these rumours are being generated by one candidate against
another, or at least by their supporters?

THOMAS REESE: Well, I don't think they're being generated by one candidate against the other. But
on the other hand, there's clearly lots of people out there who have strong views about who they
think should be Pope, and they're more than happy to send out emails, anonymous emails; they're
more than happy to talk to the press and things like that and create these stories. So, you know,
this is happening. It's sad that it is happening, but it's part of a very human church that we're
part of.

TONY JONES: Now, you've written that we should try to think about this election from the point of
view of the cardinals themselves. What do you mean by that exactly?

THOMAS REESE: Well, I think that we have to remember that the cardinals are getting together to
elect someone to govern the church universal. On the other hand, the cardinals are also coming from
very different parts of the world with different concerns. You know, for example, the cardinals
from the Third World - their people are in poverty, their people are hungry, and they're very
concerned about the impact of globalisation on their people. Cardinals from Asia and Africa are
concerned about good relations with Muslims. I mean, people in Nigeria and in the Middle East and
in Indonesia, they're living, you know, right next to - right as neighbours with Muslims, and it's
a matter of life and death for them that the church have good relations with the Muslim community.
On the other hand, in Latin America, there are no Muslims. That's not an issue for them. In the
First World - I would say in America, Australia, Europe - there's a great concern for ecumenism.
You have one of the great ecumenical leaders in the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Cassidy. These
cardinals are very interested that the church continue to reach out to Protestants and Jews and
continue to improve relations with them. You can see that in different parts of the world, there
are different priorities; different things that people are concerned about. It's not so much that
it's north versus south or Latin America versus Europe; it's that they have different priorities,
different things that their people are concerned about.

TONY JONES: Does that mean we should be thinking, then, about the strength of the voting blocs? For
example, I think the Third World candidates or the Third World cardinals, I should say, comprise
about 35 per cent of the vote. The Italians comprise more than 20 per cent, so you have these
emerging blocs. Is there any sense that some of those blocs will come together and get behind one
of these candidates for a variety of the reasons you were just talking about?

THOMAS REESE: Well, it doesn't appear that - at least prior to entering the conclave, it didn't
appear that any of these blocs were unified. The Italians were divided, the Latin Americans have
three or four candidates, so it didn't appear that they were united in any sense. But I think the
concerns of each group will be represented when they're voting. I mean, whether it's a European, an
African or a Latin American, clearly we're going to have a Pope who's very concerned about social
justice, who's going to be a prophetic voice talking about the plight of the poor, and this is the
kind of prophetic voice that the cardinals from Latin America want, and I think you would find
support for that among the other cardinals. At the same time, the cardinals from the United States
and from the First World - I mean, we have a problem with the declining number of priests. This is
a problem in Latin America. Clearly, the next Pope is going to have to deal with this, whether it's
by somehow recruiting more young men who want to be celibate priests or by opening up the whole
question of perhaps ordaining married men as priests. So all of these questions, all of these
issues will have to be faced by the Pope, and hopefully he will listen to the various voices in the
church, to the different bishops, the different cardinals, even the laymen and women in the church,
before he makes decisions on these issues.

TONY JONES: Alright. As a cheeky final question for you, do you have a sense of any emerging
favourite, given what you've just been saying, briefly?

THOMAS REESE: No. I really don't. I'm not a betting man and I'm not a prophet, so I think it's
anybody's guess right now. Certainly, we've heard names like Tettamanzi, Arinze, Hummes. The one
thing I'm certain of: it won't be an American. They're not going to elect an American to be Pope.

TONY JONES: Alright. We thank you very much for taking the time, even if you did have a swipe at
your own countrymen and their possibilities, but we thank you for joining us tonight.