German cardinal ahead in pre-conclave politicking
By Tom Heneghan
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has gained strong support among Roman Catholic cardinals seeking a successor to Pope John Paul but many of them are still undecided, a Church official said on Wednesday.
The German theologian, the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog for 23 years, is the frontrunner for now while moderates were considering a symbolic candidacy for Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former archbishop of Milan, the official said.
But this was only the line-up for the first round of voting, often a formality gauging strengths of different camps, rather than a sign of who might end up as pope. Voting conclaves can last several days and often produce surprise results.
In an unexpected move, Ratzinger published a book in Germany on Wednesday arguing that Europe must reclaim its Christian heritage. Open campaigning for the papacy is frowned upon and it was not clear what effect the book would have.
"Ratzinger is looking strong but it's still far from clear who will emerge and how the voting will go," said the official who requested anonymity. The conclave begins next Monday and a two-thirds majority -- 77 out of 115 votes -- is needed to win.
Italian newspapers reported that between 40 and 50 cardinals had signalled support for Ratzinger in private pre-conclave meetings this week.
A conservative campaign to rapidly declare John Paul a saint also appeared to work in Ratzinger's favour because of his close ties to the former Pontiff.
"Ratzinger's supporters have stepped up their efforts to elect him quickly," wrote the Rome daily LaRepubblica.
GERMANS AGAINST RATZINGER
Although he was John Paul's closest aide and is dean of the College of Cardinals due to elect the next pontiff, Ratzinger is not an obvious candidate because of his age -- he turns 78 on Saturday -- and the polarising role he has played.
Ratzinger has clamped down hard on theologians who strayed from his strict doctrinal line and alienated other Christian denominations by saying they were not real churches.
Both La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera newspapers reported that two other powerful German cardinals, Karl Lehmann of Mainz and Vatican-based Walter Kasper, were strongly against him. Both have clashed publicly with Ratzinger in the past.
The official said moderates were lining up temporarily behind a symbolic candidacy for Martini, who was their favourite for years until he resigned as Milan archbishop in 2002.
While Martini, 78 and ailing, has signalled he does not want the job, a strong showing for him in the first round could indicate the strength of moderate cardinals and help rally support behind a candidate more acceptable to them.
"The moderates will have to get their act together fast because about half the cardinals seem undecided and could go along with whoever looks like a winner," the official said.
BREAKING VOW OF SILENCE?
The cardinals agreed last week not to talk to the media during the pre-conclave period but Italian journalists with close ties to the Vatican frequently get leaks. Their media are also favoured because most cardinals speak Italian.
The excerpts from Ratzinger's book "Values in Times of Upheaval" published by Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily did not appear formally to break that vow of silence as they were most likely written even before Pope John Paul died on April 2.
"Europe needs to accept itself anew ... if it is to survive," wrote Ratzinger, a former archbishop of Munich.
"In the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems to have become empty inside, paralysed by a life-threatening crisis to its health and dependent on transplants," he wrote, referring to the continent's low birthrate and need for immigrant labour.
He also criticised the collapse of traditional families and the drive to legalise gay marriage, a trend which meant that "the entire moral history of mankind is being left behind."
He rapped Western society for what he said was its correct decision to make criticism of Islam or Judaism a taboo but said it was a mistake to allow Christianity to be freely ridiculed and condemned.
"Believing Christians should see themselves as a creative minority" that could save Europe by helping to revive "the best of its heritage," he said.
In less compelling analysis, it seems that the bookies and gamblers of the world are also seeing a bit of shake-up come along in predictions of who will take the Seat of Peter. Mirroring reports like the one above, it seems that the odds-makers are also starting to lean toward some of the Vatican oldsters and away from the younger names that have been being tossed about the last week.
Punters Bet on Old, European, Conservative Pope
Apr 14, 11:10 AM (ET)
By Paul Hoskins
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Gamblers are betting on two elderly cardinals from France and Germany to be the next pope, according to Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.
Odds on Germany's Joseph Ratzinger, who prior to Pope John Paul's death was the number four choice, have shortened to 4-1 and France's Jean-Marie Lustiger has come from nowhere to join him at the top of the list.
"Lustiger was at 20-1 two weeks ago but they've started betting for him in just the last three or four days," a spokesman at Paddy Power said.
He said a bet of 1,500 euros ($1,931) on Lustiger at 10-1 was one of the biggest so far. To date, the company has taken 7,000 bets worth a total of 150,000 euros on the next pontiff.
Lustiger, like Ratzinger a favorite of the late pope and sharing his conservative views, is the Archbishop Emeritus of Paris and the only Jewish born Catholic prelate of modern times.
A flurry of bets on Thursday helped boost Ratzinger, who turns 78 this week, after Italian media reported he had initial support of 40 to 50 cardinals and a church official told Reuters on Wednesday that support for him looked strong.
The conclave to elect a pope, where early favorites often lose out in later rounds, begins on Monday with a two-thirds majority -- 77 out if 115 voting cardinals -- needed to win.
Feedback on Paddy Power's Web Site showed those having a flutter expect the next pope to be older, ensuring a shorter papacy that could allow a current cardinal to succeed him.
"People think there's a bit of political maneuvering going on among some cardinals in order to give themselves a fighting chance next time round," the Paddy Power spokesman said.
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, 78, is the ailing former archbishop of Milan who is said to be winning symbolic support from moderates. He is the third choice at 9-2 followed by the Brazilian archbishop of Sao Paulo, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, 70.
Among the relative youngsters to lose ground, Martini's successor as archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, 71, has sunk from poll position on April 3 to number six while Nigeria's Cardinal France Arinze, 72, dropped from two to five.
Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, at 62 one of the youngest men voting for the pope, has also fallen from grace among punters slipping from third to eighth at 14-1.
That puts him level with the relatively unknown Chilean archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, 71, whose odds shortened from 50-1 after a good few bets.