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How antigay will the next pope be?

How antigay will the next pope be?

Behind the thick oak doors of the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church are doing more than picking the next pope. Their deliberations--which began Monday--also serve as a critical judgment on what the faith needs most as pressures close in from all directions, including increasingly gay-friendly Western nations and not-so-gay-friendly Eastern ones. The cardinals often mentioned as possible papal successors have already made their voices heard--addressing the world's 1.1 billion Catholics and their fellow red-hatted "princes of the church" expected at the first conclave in more than a quarter century. Every speech, text, and public gesture has been pored over in recent years for clues about each man's style and priorities. "They must pick the 21st-century pope and address 21st-century questions," said the Reverend Giovanni D'Ercole, a commentator on Vatican affairs. "It may not be easy." On one end is the blunt tone of the German theologian-scholar Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who has taken on everything from rock music to Muslim Turkey's European Union bid in his role as the Vatican's chief watchdog for doctrine. He was a close confidant of Pope John Paul II's and helped him to craft many of the Vatican's recent condemnations of homosexuality. A more nuanced path is followed by Austrian cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who has reached out to Islamic leaders but also has encouraged Jewish settlement of the Holy Land. The Latin Americans considered "papabile"--the Italian word for papal candidates--speak forcefully about confronting poverty. But none have signaled any support for major policy reversals such as easing opposition to contraception, dropping priestly celibacy, or allowing gay couples to receive blessings from the church. It's a fact that pro-reform Catholics are slowly absorbing: Priests do not rise to cardinal by challenging the system. The conclave, with 115 cardinals under the age of 80 and eligible to vote, must juggle multiple demands and make some hard choices. With no clear papal favorite, the outcome likely will be about compromise and what new priorities attract the biggest following. There's geography: Do they note that nearly half the world's Catholics are in Latin America and select a "New World" pope for the first time? Or reward the vibrant African Catholics with a pope of their own? Or choose a leader who could reinvigorate a fading flock in Europe? There are internal dilemmas, including how to reverse the shortage of priests and nuns in the West, stabilize the money-losing Vatican's finances, and restore credibility following crippling clergy sex scandals in the United States and elsewhere. The cardinals also must ask, Who among them can handle the important dialogue with Islam and other contemporary moral quandaries like cloning and biotechnology? Rising above it all may be the powerful legacy of the charismatic John Paul II. The cardinals heard the cries from pilgrims last week at the pontiff's funeral: "Santo subito!"--a plea that he be made a saint immediately. "The church cannot go backward," said Fernando Segovia, a theologian at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "The new pope must be someone who also can relate to the people as a pastor and leader. This could be the biggest force in the conclave. If the cardinals ignore this momentum, the church could suffer a serious blow." The process began Monday with a special Mass, followed by the conclave. The cardinals are cut off from the rest of the world until they reach a decision. It involves four votes a day until two thirds of the cardinals--at least 77--back one name. If no pope emerges late in the second week, a simple majority can vote to change the rules so a winner can be elected by a majority--at least 58. It took eight ballots over three days in October 1978 to elect the first Polish pope. The prelate who appears this time in the central window of St. Peter's Basilica will be caught in the reflected glare of John Paul's history-making papacy. His every move will--at least initially--be measured against John Paul. As one placard read last week in St. Peter's Square, "What would JP-Two do?" But the late pope's decisive moments came during the Cold War. His successor inherits a very different world. The world's richest nations "must search an alternative global program where all have the possibility to integrate themselves and no one remains outside," Brazilian cardinal Claudio Hummes said in 2002. "There will be no future if things go on as they now stand." A book of 110 newspaper columns written by Hummes--on a variety of topics, including land reform, drug abuse, and human cloning--was released last week in Brazil to capitalize on the buzz about him as a contender. The book, Dialogue With the City, includes harsh denunciations of "greedy and powerful" landholders who police believe ordered the February slaying of American nun Dorothy Stang, a longtime defender of land rights for poor settlers in the Amazon rain forest. Hummes, 70, also holds the line on Catholic teachings regarding abortion and human cloning, which he called a "serious moral crime." In September 2003 Hummes told a U.N. meeting on AIDS that the disease is "one of the major tragedies of our time" but must be addressed by education and sexual abstinence rather than condoms. Another Latin American cardinal, Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, 62, of Honduras, also has lashed out at inequalities. "We are not moving simply toward a globalization of markets...but we are moving toward the globalization of poverty," he said in 2003. But some of his sharpest--and most conflicted--comments have come following the priest sex abuse scandals in the United States. In a 2002 Vatican news conference, he called pedophilia an "illness" that cannot be tolerated in the priesthood. In a later interview with the Italian magazine 30 Giorni, or 30 Days, he decried the judicial "witch hunts" against U.S. clergy. "[It] reminds me of the time of Nero, Diocletian, and, more recently, of Stalin and Hitler," he was quoted as saying. Italian cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, 71, told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in 1997 that "very grave personal and social risks" stem from giving gay and lesbian couples full civil rights, including marriage and adoption. Another Italian contender, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, 63, carries a similar conservative outlook. On calls for women priests, Scola told reporters in 1997, "The church does not have the power to modify the practice, uninterrupted for 2,000 years, of calling only men." Cardinal Francis Arinze, 72, a Vatican-based Nigerian, also taken a hard stance against liberal pressures on the church brought largely by American Catholics. The family is "mocked" by homosexuality and calls to recognize same-sex marriages, he told a Georgetown University audience in May 2003. Last year Arinze suggested that Catholic politicians supporting abortion rights are "not fit" to receive Communion. He made the same judgment for militant members of Rainbow Sash, a Roman Catholic gay rights group that has tried to provoke confrontations with clergy. Arinze, however, stands out as a leading voice for better Christian-Muslim dialogue--a central part of his interfaith work at the Vatican since the 1980s. "It matters very much, not only to Islam and Christianity, but also to the world how the followers of these two religions relate to one another and how they envisage these relationships at this turning point in history," Arinze told the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in Washington. Schoenborn, of Austria, could encounter more skepticism from Islamic leaders. In a March speech at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he said Christians must support a Jewish presence in the Holy Land as part of biblical prophecy. "Only once in human history did God take a country as an inheritance and give it to His chosen people," The Jerusalem Post quoted Schoenborn as saying. Schoenborn added that "we are all longing" for a solution to end Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But he's been less clear on hot-button issues in Europe, including whether to accept Turkey as a full EU member. Ratzinger, however, has been an unwavering defender of Europe's Christian essence. "Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe," he told the French magazine Le Figaro last year. Ratzinger--as the Vatican's chief doctrinal overseer since 1981--offers the broadest range of writings and comments of any of the possible papal successors. In 1986 he scorned rock music as a "vehicle of antireligion." Last year he told American bishops that it was appropriate to deny Communion to those who support such "manifest grave sin" as abortion and euthanasia. In a book released Wednesday, Values in a Time of Upheavals, Ratzinger dismissed demands for European "multiculturalism" as a "fleeing from what is one's own." He also wrote that "marriage and family are essential for European identity." Yet in another book, Salt of the Earth, published in 1997, Ratzinger showed flashes of a pastoral side and sensitivity for the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, when he was considered a leader among forward-thinking theologians. "Christianity must rise again like the mustard seed, in insignificantly small groups whose members intensively live in combat with what is evil in the world while demonstrating what is good," wrote Ratzinger, who turned 78 on Saturday. "They are the salt of the earth, the vessels of the faith." (Brian Murphy, AP religion writer)

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