Monday, April 18, 2005

Cardinal Says New Pope Must Defend Tradition

By Philip Pullella and Crispian Balmer

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The conservative front-runner in the election for a new pope warned fellow cardinals Monday that they must choose a pontiff to defend traditional doctrine and shun trendy innovation.

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Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, issued a ringing defense of Roman Catholic orthodoxy at a special Mass just hours before cardinals were to lock themselves away in a conclave to elect a successor to Pope John Paul.

The Church must withstand the "tides of trends and the latest novelties," he said in a sermon seen by many Vatican watchers as a bid to promote his own candidacy.

Whoever is chosen to lead the 1.1 billion-member Church will have to make his mark after one of the most dynamic papacies in history and face challenges ranging from poverty and AIDS in the developing world to declining religious faith in the West.

Ratzinger told a packed St. Peter's Basilica that the Church faced an uncertain future and was threatened by the rise of Christian sects around the world.

"An adult faith is not one that follows tides of trends and the latest novelties," he said, denouncing a "dictatorship of relativism" that denied the existence of absolute truths promoted by the 2,000-year-old Church.

During his 23 years as doctrinal chief, Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- modern successor of the Inquisition -- has produced a stream of documents reaffirming bans on women priests, contraception, abortion and gay marriage.

Since John Paul's death on April 2, media and bookmakers have tipped Ratzinger, a close aide of the Polish pontiff and preacher at his funeral, as the early favorite to succeed him.

But most Vatican experts doubt that the 78-year-old German, whose uncompromising dogma has polarized the Catholic world, will be able to garner the two-thirds majority needed to become pope, leaving the field wide open.

ANCIENT AND MODERN

The conclave, a unique election mixing ancient ritual with ultra-modern technology, was due to start at about 4:30 p.m. (1430 GMT) with 115 cardinals from 52 countries filing into the frescoed Sistine Chapel.

In a process dating back to medieval times, the "princes of the Church" will only emerge from the walled Vatican City when they have chosen the first new pontiff of the third Christian millennium and the 264th successor to St. Peter.

Of the eight 20th century conclaves, none took longer than five days, and two were completed on the second day.

"This is a very difficult papacy to inherit," said Orietta Cristoferi, a pilgrim from northern Italy, outside St. Peter's. "He should have an openness to Latin America and other places. John Paul worked hard to open up to the whole world."

The cardinals were to decide only after the conclave started whether to take a first vote Monday evening or wait until Tuesday morning.

From Tuesday, they will vote as many as four times a day. Black smoke from a makeshift chimney on the Sistine Chapel will mark an inconclusive vote. White smoke and the tolling of St. Peter's bells will mark the election of a new pope.

As in medieval times, the cardinals will be banned from communicating with the outside world, but the Vatican has taken new high-tech measures to ensure secrecy in the 21st century.


Mobile phones, newspapers, television, radio and the Internet will be banned. A false floor has been built in the chapel to accommodate electronic counter-bugging measures.

EUROPEAN MAJORITY

Many say the new pope should be from the developing world, where more than two thirds of the faithful live.

But the odds appear to be stacked against cardinals like Nigeria's Francis Arinze and Claudio Hummes of Brazil.

Europe has only one quarter of the world's Catholics but half of the cardinals in the conclave and for many of the Europeans, the biggest problem facing the Vatican is the rapidly shrinking congregations in the West.

Italy has the largest national block, with 20 cardinals, and dominated the papacy for 455 years before the relatively unknown Karol Wojtyla of Poland became Pope John Paul in 1978.

The cardinal electors have moved into a comfortable, specially built residence within the Vatican -- a stark contrast to past conclaves where cardinals were locked in and around the Sistine Chapel, sleeping in small cells and sharing bathrooms.

The Spartan environment was imposed to force a quick decision and avoid a repeat of a 13th century election that took almost three years.

Most Vatican experts expect a relatively quick conclave this time, predicting that white smoke will rise above the Sistine Chapel Wednesday evening or Thursday. They fear a long conclave would point to deep and dangerous divisions.

In a last burst of speculation, Italian newspapers said the opening tussle would pit Ratzinger against a progressive such as Italy's Carlo Maria Martini to test the strength of rival camps.

But in conclaves, like long-distance races, it is considered a disadvantage to break from the pack too early and the papal field was considered wide open.

Some 15 cardinals have been touted as potential popes, among them Italy's Dionigi Tettamanzi, Honduran Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, India's Ivan Dias and Austria's Christoph Schoenborn.

(Additional reporting by Jane Barrett, Claudia Parsons and Clara Ferreira-Marques)

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