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Pope John Paul II 1920~2005

What it takes to become pope

As the media face for millions of Catholics, the next pope will need a good public presence.

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(CNN) -- In theory, any practicing Roman Catholic man can be the pope. In reality, the pope has for centuries been chosen from within the Sacred College of Cardinals.

But little is known beyond speculation about who will be the next pope. There are candidates that are discussed but the cardinals do not address the issue seriously until the pope dies, said Father Thomas Reese in a CNN interview in 2005. Reese, editor-in-chief of the weekly Catholic magazine "America" and a CNN analyst, is the author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church."

"There's three or four Italians that are being spoken of, a couple Africans, three or more Latin American cardinals that are being mentioned," Reese said. "No Americans, however, are on anybody's list."

Possible candidates include:

• Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: One of the most powerful men in the Vatican, Ratzinger served for 20 years as John Paul II's chief theological adviser.

• Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi: If an Italian is chosen, Tettamanzi, the archbishop of Milan, is considered the most likely Italian candidate. (More potential successors)

Reese said three factors will be important in the selection of the next pope, and the first is age.

"The cardinals clearly won't choose a young man," Reese said. John Paul II was pope for more than 20 years -- double the average term for popes in this century -- and Reese said many cardinals agree that having another such pope is "not a good idea."

But Reese said the cardinals aren't likely to choose an older man who could become as ill as John Paull II was in his final years.

"I think they will look for someone between 65 and 72 years of age," he said. "Sixty-five was the average age of popes elected in the 20th century, with John Paul II the youngest and John XXIII the oldest."

Second, the next pope must speak a number of languages. English, which has become the world language, is a must, as is Italian, since the pope is also the bishop of Rome.

"Third, he's got to have a public presence," Reese said. "He can't be a media disaster, because so much of the media will be focused on him."

Never a Jesuit pope

Reese speculated that John Paul II's successor will support John Paul II's policies but will also want to limit the power of the Vatican bureaucracy and decentralize decision-making in the church.

Pope election
The next pope is likely to continue John Paul II's work.  

Also, there has never been a Jesuit pope. Indeed, the word "Jesuit" has at times been used as a pejorative suggesting a scheming politico and reflects a long-standing distrust of the church's most intellectual and freethinking of orders.

The possibility of a black pope exists. Cardinal Francis Arinze has been mentioned a potential successor. A Vatican insider, Arinze was close to John Paul II.

Choosing a black pope might strengthen the church's appeal in the developing world. The last pope from Africa was Gelasius I, who was pope between 492 and 496.

Arinze also has the distinction of being baptized by Father Cyprian, a Nigerian priest whom the pope beatified. Beatification is the first step in a process that leads to sainthood.

Having a black pope who was baptized by a black saint leading the church into the third millennium would be a sensational stroke. But as scenarios go, it's unlikely.

As the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, told the Boston Herald, "We're not going to have a black pope. ... The church won't make two bold moves in a row."

John Paul II, a Pole, was the first non-Italian pope in 456 years, but published reports suggest that the cardinals may be in the mood for another Italian.

Two possible Italian successors are Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar general of the Rome diocese, and Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the archbishop of Milan.

But just who that might be is far from certain. As Robert Moynihan, editor and publisher of the magazine "Inside the Vatican," once said, "In the Vatican, those who talk don't know and those who know don't talk."

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