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Has Benedict already chosen his successor?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Has Pope Benedict already chosen his successor? Speculation is rife as analysts predict who the next pope will be while analyzing changes both made and proposed by Benedict and their impact on who will be our next holy father.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - An outgoing pope may not choose his successor, at least not directly. However, they can indirectly influence the choice. Popes appoint cardinals, and popes come from cardinals. By appointing like-minded cardinals, a pope can help ensure his successor will preserve the traditions of the Church.

Benedict XVI has appointed more than half of the men who are eligible to succeed him. The other half were chosen by Pope John Paul II, who was himself conservative. The influence of both men, taken together, is substantial, and virtually ensures the next pope will be conservative in his approach.

Benedict has also proposed changing Vatican law to move up the date for the election of his successor. Under Pope John Paul II, the law was revised to set the start of the conclave between 15 to 20 days after the departure of the former pope. Benedict may change the law in such a way as to permit an earlier conclave. This would minimize the time the Church spends without an elected pope and ensure the Church has a holy father to preside during holy week.

However, this could also favor those cardinals already living and working in Rome. Cardinals at the Vatican network extensively with others around the world by virtue of their jobs, while cardinals in other parts of the world tend to remain focused on their region, networking less. Since Vatican assigned cardinals are better known to all, shorter periods before conclaves tend to help them get elected over more obscure cardinals from other places.

Any move by Benedict to move the conclave up could be construed as his favoring a Cardinal already in the Vatican.

However, the cardinals are already networking, swapping emails and making calls. Europe has been badly shaken by a number of scandals involving the Church including the sex abuse scandals, the Vatican Bank scandal, and the leaking of secret documents by the Pope's own butler. This has led speculation that a non-European pope might be better received.

The Church is considering a few cardinals from Africa, where it has experienced rapid growth in the past decade. There are also leading candidates from Latin America.

For now, there is no evidence that Benedict is even interested in influencing the choice for the next pope. He has pledged to remain hidden from the world in a monastery where he will spend the last of his days in prayer and contemplation.

Of course, any decisions he makes from this moment forward can be construed as manipulation, but ultimately the next pope will be decided by the cardinals themselves, in secret conclave. Benedict, who will return to being known as Cardinal Ratzinger, will not be anywhere near the conclave.

Ultimately, it is the guiding hand of God, as Catholics believe, that will choose the next holy father. Because of this faith above all else, Catholics need not worry who will be presented within the next few weeks, for it will invariably be God's choice.

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