Zero Hour at the Vatican: Bitter Struggle for Control of the Catholic Church

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Will the succession be decided among the Europeans, or will they succeed in bridging the gap with the non-European churches? Will the pope remain a man of the Restoration, as Ratzinger was, or will he be a reformer, like Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schönborn or Gianfranco Ravasi, 70, the notoriously progressive president of the Pontifical Council for Culture?

Can one line even exist in the stricken Catholic Church -- a single line uniting the 30 cardinals of the curia and the much larger number of cardinals traveling to Rome from all over the world?

The church faces massive and fundamental issues: connecting to the modern age and decisions on key questions such as celibacy, the ordination of women, ecumenism and large numbers of faithful leaving the church in some regions. Looking for a Miracle It needs a contemporary crisis manager, someone who can master the conflicts within the church with a strong hand, and can weather or, better yet, avoid scandals. He should be just as intellectually gifted as Ratzinger, as spiritually steadfast as Jesus Christ, as charismatic as Karol Wojtyla and, of course, just as young. Wojtyla was 58 when he was elected. In a nutshell, the church is seeking a mediator, a cleanup man and a tough man, and yet someone is nevertheless tender in his faith.

What it's seeking is a miracle.

The Vaticanisti agree that, given this job description, none of the six German cardinals (Paul Josef Cordes, Walter Kasper, Karl Lehmann, Reinhard Marx, Joachim Meisner, Rainer Maria Woelki) is a possibility. If the new pope is to be a European, he will most likely be an Italian.

After almost 35 years of foreign rule, first by a Pole and then by a German, an Italian pontiff would certainly be desirable. The problem is that the Italians in the curia are divided, into both territorial groups and theological factions. Their advantage, on the other hand, is that they would not be troubled by conditions in the curia. They are accustomed to confusion, intrigues, vanities and a meticulously practiced lack of interest in reform. It's the only reality they know, both in the curia and in politics.

A few days before Benedict vacates the Apostolic See on Feb. 28, a new parliament will be elected in secular Rome. The news of Benedict's resignation is already affecting the election campaign today. It has become calmer and more objective -- for one simple reason: Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who depends so greatly on media attention, is getting much less exposure now that all eyes are on the Vatican. According to rumors in the halls of parliament, Berlusconi is livid as a result while Mario Monti and the leftists are overjoyed.

The key question is how the global composition of the College of Cardinals will affect the papal election. The conclave is still just as colorful as it was before Benedict's election. It will include cardinals from 50 countries, 61 Europeans, of which six will be German and 28 Italian, 11 cardinals from the United States, five Indians, 19 Latin Americans, 11 from both Africa and Asia, and one from Australia.

Mass Masses

The Latin Americans, among others, have great expectations. They hope to see an end to the "Eurocentric Vatican," writes respected columnist Elio Gaspari. He believes that the "theologian and bureaucrat" Benedict will now be followed by a "shepherd" from the Third World. "He would combine the useful with the pleasant."

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