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Cardinals pray for guidance ahead of conclave -

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Cardinals pray for guidance ahead of conclave

Reporter: Jane Hutcheon

TONY JONES: Now to the Vatican where, just a short time ago, the 115 members of the College of
Cardinals held a Mass to pray for divine guidance as they prepare to elect a new pope. Millions of
Catholics are waiting for the outcome, not just for spiritual direction but because the new pope
will have the power to reconsider some of the major social and ethical issues that have caused so
much controversy in the latter part of the 20th century. From Rome, the ABC's Europe correspondent
Jane Hutcheon reports.

JANE HUTCHEON: In a few hours, 115 members of a closeted men's club known as the College of
Cardinals begins the process of choosing Pope John Paul II's successor. It will be no easy task.
Millions mourned the death of a man revered by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. But Vatican
critics doubt the worldliness of the candidate who could replace him.

GEORGE MONBIOT, COMMENTATOR, THE GUARDIAN, UK: They are very much removed from the world in a whole
lot of ways. They are celibate or supposedly celibate people, so they tell us. They are a group of
old men. They are very unrepresentative of the world's people and they've got very little
experience of many of the issues and problems, which are faced by the world's people.

JANE HUTCHEON: Luca Coscioni was an economics professor until 10 years ago he was diagnosed with
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, the same genetic disease which struck physicist Stephen Hawking.

MARCO CAPPATO, LUCA COSCIONI ASSOCIATION: He's completely paralysed. He can just move some muscles
from his face and has the mobility of a finger that allows him to click on a mouse.

JANE HUTCHEON: Luca Coscioni will die before a cure can be found for him, but he's hoping that
others won't share the same fate. Under new laws brought in last year, stem cell research is banned
in Italy, but the party behind Luca Coscioni believes that a referendum to take place some time in
the coming months could overturn that ban, that is, if the Vatican doesn't get its way.

MARCO CAPPATO: They are moving like a political party - explicitly. They organise meetings with
priests. They have an enormous economical and political clout. The Vatican is acting as a state -
at the United Nations they have been granted special status. They are doing politics.

JANE HUTCHEON: Marco Cappato was a former member of the European parliament on the Radical Party's
ticket. He believes the church should stop meddling in politics. But those who know the Vatican
well say the Catholic Church is simply part of a wider debate.

THOMAS REECE, AUTHOR: The church is simply a voice among many other voices. It tries to bring an
ethical perspective to political issues, to remind people that it's, you know, politics isn't just
about money and power.

JANE HUTCHEON: In this firmly Catholic country, the Italian Radical Party successfully campaigned
to overturn the ban on abortion and divorce. But that was decades ago. This latest ethical
battleground comes at a time when a new pope isn't likely to make liberal compromises that could
weaken the church's position. For Luca Coscioni, whose condition deteriorates by the day, he will
fight this battle to the death. Jane Hutcheon, Lateline.