Church in Transition
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Posted April 9, 2005 at 3:05 p.m. CDT

Cardinals don't want Africans in high positions, archbishop says
Secularity, Islam seen as major challenges facing the next pope

By Stacy Meichtry

A day after Pope John Paul II was entombed beneath the marble nave of St. Peter’s Basilica, talk is already underway over who should succeed him.

Over the next nine days of official mourning, known as the novemdiales, a wide spectrum special interest groups are expected to descend upon Rome and champion their causes. They will be joined by opinionmakers around the world, Catholic and non-Catholic, seeking to influence the 115 cardinals before they take to the Sistine Chapel on April 18.

So far the sharpest attempts to frame the debate have come out of Asia and Africa.

"If the pope is a liberal it is against the law of God, " Ramon Arguelles, the Archbishop of Lipa, told reporters on Thursday.

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg has compared the prospect of the next pope being black to "a train that will not take a sharp turn."

"In Rome, the cardinals enjoy a huge number of Africans becoming Christians but they don't think we are ready for high positions, " he said, adding : "They fear paganism might come through the back door."

But the majority of comments from political and religious leaders have thus far been indirect, usually filtered through their impressions of John Paul’s legacy.

Returning home Friday on Airforce One hours after attending John Paul’s funeral in the Vatican City, President George W. Bush made a point to underline the pope’s moral clarity.

"I think John Paul II will have a clear legacy of peace, compassion and a strong legacy of setting a clear moral tone," Bush told a pool of reporters on Air Force One.

He then amended his description of the pontiff’s legacy, adding the word "excellent."

"It was a strong legacy," the president said. "I wanted to make sure there was a proper adjective to the legacy he left behind, not just the word clear."

Friday the world’s political elite had a rare opportunity to scrutinize the 115 eligible voters that will be entering the next conclave. At John Paul’s funeral, cardinals processed into the square two-by-two to kneel before the altar. As their red vestments flapped in the strong winds, the world’s leaders looked on.

The cardinals themselves have thus far exercised extreme caution in their encounters with the media. For the most part, they have declined to answer direct questions about the immediate future of the church. What little they do say is usually espressed in broadstrokes on through reflections on John Paul’s legacy.

"This pope, he had a problem, and it will be a problem also in the future. He had a problem to have unity and diversity," Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium, a papabile, or candiate to be pope, said in a press conference Thursday.

Danneels went on to list a number of top concerns facing the next conclave that included the role of women in the church, the decline of church attendance in Europe, the strengthening of local dioceses and bishop’s conferences and relations with Islam. The list did not come with solutions.

Cardinals Francis George and Theodore McCarrick of Washington have also run the gammut of issues facing the next conclave during their meetings with the press over the past week. One issue both noted was the church’s relations with Islam—a faith that has emerged as Christianity’s most powerful rival in continents like Africa and Asia.

"The history between Catholicism and Islam is not a happy one. We want to live at peace in a global society, so a dialogue with Islam is particularly important," Chicago Cardinal Francis George said. 

"We have to learn to live with Islam," McCarrick said. "We have to learn how to dialogue with Islam."

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