Catholic Cardinals Begin Conclave to Select New Pope

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 18, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 18, 2005

The Vatican ( — Catholic cardinals form across the world met Monday to begin the secret process of selecting a new leader of the Catholic Church from among their number.

The 155 cardinals participating in the voting process secluded themselves in the Sistine Chapel, which has been given a thorough check against any technological devices that could allow media outlets an inside view of the deliberations.

Before adjourning to the famous sanctuary, cardinals again took an oath of secrecy concerning the conclave. German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the church leaders in affirming the confidentiality of the process.

"In a particular way, we promise and swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting," the oath read.

"[W]e promise and swear not to break this secret in any way," the cardinals pledged.

The cardinals will vote twice a day until a new pope is selected and the voting could end as early as today. John Paul’s successor must be chosen on a two-thirds ballot and if no one emerges after two weeks, the cardinals can vote for a new pope on a majority ballot.

Leading Catholic figures who could be tapped as the next Pope include Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Vatican-based Nigerian, and Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes.

Arinze, who shares John Paul’s pro-life views on abortion and other issues, is touted by conservative Catholics. If named, he would be the first black pope.

Hummes would also likely keep the Catholic church on its strongly pro-life path as the Brazilian Catholic Church has waged a strong effort to oppose abortion and stop the expansion of embryonic stem cell research.

Other possibilities include Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the archbishop of Milan; Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice; Giovanni Battista Re, an Italian who served as president of the Vatican commission for Latin America; Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna; and Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels.

Some have suggested the Catholic Church turn to a non European as the next leader and look to Catholics from Africa or South America. Pope John Paul II was the first non Italian elected as pope in 455 years, and he was born in Poland.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn talked about the process and kinds of considerations the cardinals will have as they elect a successor.

"Cardinals may consider such factors as geography, other religions, world hunger, peace, age, communication skills and language, but in the final analysis they will decide to vote for the cardinal who is most Christ like," he said.

Flynn said one of the main concerns for the next Pope will be uniting Catholics around the world.

That’s especially the case on pro-life issues as the Catholic Church’s pro-life position on abortion and bioethics issues like euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research are challenged.

Whomever replaces the Pope will have a looming pro-life legacy to fill.

Father David O’Connell, President of Catholic University in Washington, told Voice of America that the Pope leaves behind a pro-life legacy in which he reasserted the moral values the Catholic Church holds dear.

"His talking about abortion reflects his consistent belief and conviction and the consistent belief of the Catholic church in the sacredness of human life and every human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death," Father O’Connell said.

"And he was unwavering in his speaking about that, writing about that, and dealing with that issue within our world," Father O’Connell explained

Europe has 58 papal electors and Italy has 20. Latin America has 21 while Africa has 11. The United States has 11 cardinals capable of voting in the conclave. Cardinals must be under 80 years old to vote.

Two of the 117 worldwide cardinals will not be able to participate in the conclave because of health issues. They include Cardinal Jaime L. Sin of the Philippines and Cardinal Alfonso Antonio Suarez Rivera of Mexico.

Pope John Paul II died earlier this month at age 84 after dealing with months of declining health, Parkinson’s disease and chronic hip ailments.