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Catholic World News News Feature

Toward the conclave #7: key personalities in the conclave April 12, 2005

Among the 115 cardinals who will enter the Sistine Chapel on April 18 to elect the new Pope, only 2 have ever participated in a conclave!

Cardinals who have reached the age of 80 are no longer eligible to vote in a papal election, and among those under 80, all but 3 were appointed by Pope John Paul II after his own election in October 1978.

Other Stories in this Series
This is the 7th in a series of articles looking forward to the conclave that will choose the 265th Roman Pontiff. Readers might also be interested in:

· Toward the conclave #1: the office of camerlengo
· Toward the conclave #2: the cardinals' daily congregations
· Toward the conclave #3: announcing the new Pope
· Toward the conclave #4: how long will the conclave last?
· Toward the conclave #5: a brief history of conclaves
· Toward the conclave #6: the voting procedure

One of those three, Cardinal Jaime Sin, the retired Archbishop of Manila, is seriously ill, and will not be able to attend the conclave. Another, Cardinal William Baum-- the American prelate who is a former Archbishop of Washington and most recently served as Apostolic Pentitentiary-- is in Rome preparing for the conclave, despite his own frail health.

Only one other cardinal-elector has participated in a previous conclave, and he is beyond question the most important figure entering the conclave on April 18: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Since 1981, when he was called to the Vatican by Pope John Paul II to serve as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the former Archbishop of Munich has established a reputation as a powerful intellect and a determined defender of orthodox Catholic teaching. Although his strong stance on doctrinal issues have often roused controversy, Cardinal Ratzinger is by nature a quiet, affable, and mild-mannered man, whose personality belies the liberal caricature of the Panzerkardinal. Pope John Paul relied heavily on the Bavarian prelate, and urged him to remain at his post despite Cardinal Ratzinger's well-known desire to retire to Germany.

Now, entering the conclave, Cardinal Ratzinger is not only the most established public personality among the cardinal-electors, but also the dean of the College of Cardinals. He was the center of attention when he presided at the Pope's funeral; he will be squarely in the focus of public attention once again when he presides at the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica just before the cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel.

For several years Cardinal Ratzinger has been seen as an unlikely candidate for the papacy, because of his age (78) and his medical history (at least two mild strokes). But if the conclave opts for a cautious approach-- leaning toward a prelate who is well known to all, and unlikely to serve a long term in Peter's throne-- he could become an obvious choice. In any event, by virtue of his intellectual stature, his long experience, and his deep knowledge of Vatican affairs, Cardinal Ratzinger will be a dominant figure in the conclave: a man whose opinions others are bound to take seriously.

The second "great elector" in the coming conclave will be Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who was the Secretary of State until the Pope's death ended the terms of all the leading members of the Roman Curia. Essentially the second-ranking official at the Vatican, he-- like Cardinal Ratzinger-- was re-appointed by Pope John Paul II despite reaching the regular retirement age of 75. A veteran Vatican official, he lacks the pastoral experience that would make him a likely candidate for the papacy. But he, too, will carry considerable weight when he speaks in the conclave.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, too, lacks pastoral experience. Aside from a few brief parish assignments, he has spent his entire priestly ministry in the Vatican. For 11 years he was the sostituto, the influential deputy to the Secretary of State who handles the day-to-day details of Vatican administration, meeting daily with the Pontiff. More recently he was prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, supervising appointments to dioceses all around the world. His age (71) and nationality (Italian) would make him an obvious contender for the papacy, but his lack of pastoral experience weighs against him. Many Vatican-watchers fully expect that he will emerge instead as the Secretary of State in the new pontificate. His consummate knowledge of Vatican affairs and his many dealings with the other cardinals over the past decade or more ensure that he will be a force in the conclave.

Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, who only recently retired from his post as Archbishop of Paris, is another powerful personality and longtime confidant of Pope John Paul II who commands respect among his brother cardinals. His retirement at age 77, and reports that he is suffering from cancer, suggest that he will not be considered as a potential successor to Pope John Paul II. His lively personality and intellect suggest that he will make his voice heard in the cardinals' deliberations.