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The men who could be pope

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" 'I can make a ruling but who will impose it?' " Hypolite Adigwe, a former seminary student of Cardinal Arinze, recalls him saying. " 'Better to talk and listen and be prepared to change yourself.' "

Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio
Buenos Aires — Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio has earned the good will of Argentina's Roman Catholics with his self-effacing style — he rides the bus to work instead of a chauffeur-driven car, spurns the official residence for a modest apartment, even does his own cooking.

With speculation that a successor to Pope John Paul could emerge from Latin America, where nearly half the world's one billion Roman Catholics live, the 68-year-old Archbishop of Buenos Aires is seen as a possible contender.

The son of middle-class Italian immigrants, Cardinal Bergoglio became the first Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was appointed cardinal three years later.

An advocate for the poor, he has championed social programs and won public respect for questioning free-market policies he blames for leaving millions of Argentines impoverished. Nonetheless, his conservative leanings on doctrinal and spiritual issues are widely seen as in keeping with John Paul's legacy.

If chosen, he would become the first Jesuit pontiff.

In a nation where politicians and business leaders were discredited after Argentina's devastating 2001 economic crisis, Cardinal Bergoglio won accolades for his biting critiques of the problems afflicting South America's second-largest country.

His activism has established him as one of Argentina's more respected public figures. In one of his final Masses before departing for Rome, throngs chanted "Viva Bergoglio!" after a sermon honouring John Paul.

"He understands and responds to ordinary people," said Carlos Muckhaus, 49, a school bus driver. "After all we've been through in Argentina, he knows about the challenges facing the world: poverty and social injustice."

Cardinal Bergoglio frequently spends his weekends visiting parishes in Buenos Aires's impoverished outskirts and shuns the formal trappings of office.

In speeches, Cardinal Bergoglio has chided Argentina's bickering political leaders, urging them to set aside differences and help rebuild a country still recovering from its worst financial upheaval in history. The turmoil pushed 40 per cent of Argentines into poverty.

He has also raised questions about an increasingly globalized economy.

Policies of those who oversee the new global economy, Cardinal Bergoglio said, "don't take into account poverty, the lack of education, not even the suffering of the elderly."

On spiritual issues, he has opposed abortion and supported celibacy. On church matters, Cardinal Bergoglio has called for tightening the Church's hierarchical structure to ease internal dissent.

Recently, he led a successful church campaign to shut down an art exhibit depicting Catholic saints, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary in unusual settings like a frying pan and blender — pieces he called "blasphemous."

Any Bergoglio candidacy may be hampered by health concerns — he has only one lung after an operation when he was a teenager.

Also playing against him could be his background as a Jesuit, an order that does not urge its members to seek church honours.

Born in Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio was ordained in 1969, and four years later took over as the head of the Jesuits in Argentina, presiding as the country fell into the grips of a 1976-83 military dictatorship. The church came under severe criticism during that period for failing to call attention to the regime's atrocities.

The so-called Dirty War — the military's crackdown on leftists and political opponents — left at least 13,000 people missing or dead. Human rights groups say the figure is closer to 30,000.

Cardinal Bergoglio's critics say he did not take a strong stand against the dictatorship. In 2000, however, he led an effort by the church seeking public forgiveness for its inaction.

He rarely gives interviews and has never commented publicly on his chances of becoming the first Latin American pontiff. He seemed in no mood to talk about it after his name surfaced.

Guillermo Marco, his spokesman, dismissed questions about any possible Bergoglio candidacy, in keeping with the cardinal's tendency to maintain a low profile.

"It's all conjecture and it bothers the cardinal tremendously," Mr. Marco said.

Dario Cardinal Castrillon
Bogota — In a country where dozens of priests have been killed for their straightforward talk, Dario Cardinal Castrillon has a reputation for courage and outspokenness.

Over the years, he has called on a Colombian president whose election campaign was financed by drug traffickers to step down, branded legislators bribed by traffickers a national disgrace and urged voters to reject another presidential candidate because he supported the right to divorce.

Cardinal Castrillon, the 75-year-old head of the Vatican's office for priests, is among several Latin American cardinals considered a contender to become pope. In Pereira, a city in the coffee-growing region where he spent 22 years as a bishop, he is remembered as fearless in actions as well as words.

He would walk at night through the streets of the mountain town with a huge cup of hot coffee and bread for beggars and mentally ill people who slept on the sidewalks, recalled Monsignor Francisco Arias.

"We would find him in the worst places of Pereira. He was never afraid of anyone, of anything," Msgr. Arias said.

From his pulpit, Cardinal Castrillon accused Pereira police of killing prostitutes, street kids and beggars in a lethal "social cleansing" program.

"After he denounced them in his sermon, the killings stopped and the Pereira police chief left town," Msgr. Arias said.

In Colombia, mired in a 40-year guerrilla war and plagued by drug trafficking, such blunt talk can bring an assassin's bullet. An archbishop, a bishop, at least 50 priests and three nuns have been murdered in Colombia in the past 20 years.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author, said the silver-haired, bespectacled Cardinal Castrillon is a priest who is not afraid to do battle for what he believes is right.

"Since he was ordained when he was 23, he understood his priesthood as a militia of social justice," Garcia Marquez wrote in a 1999 magazine article.

Cardinal Castrillon once met with Medellin cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar to ask him to surrender. Mr. Escobar refused, and in 1993 was shot dead by police.

Cardinal Castrillon also rode on horseback to several meeting with guerrillas in the jungles, and was instrumental in peace talks that ended with the demobilization of the M-19 guerrilla group.

A native of Medellin, Cardinal Castrillon earned a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, then rose through the church's ranks, from a village priest, to general secretary of the Colombian Episcopal Conference, bishop in Pereira, archbishop of Bucaramanga and finally cardinal in 1998.

Summoned by pope John Paul II in 1996 to head the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Castrillon follows the orthodox line of the church on moral issues such as abortion and euthanasia. Sexual abuse by priests has been a more sensitive subject.

At a 2002 Vatican news conference, Cardinal Castrillon blamed a culture of "pan-sexuality and sexual licentiousness" for some priests committing pedophilia and said formulas must be found to punish abusers that do not conflict with "fundamental principles of the church," leading some critics to wonder if the Vatican was taking the matter seriously enough.

In his home country, Cardinal Castrillon is known for his blunt talk.

In 1982, he spoke out against presidential candidate Alvaro Gomez — who ultimately lost the election — for backing the right to divorce. In 1994, he asked Roman Catholics not to vote for presidential candidate Ernesto Samper, saying Mr. Samper had supported legalization of marijuana and was too close to non-Catholic faiths.

Mr. Samper won the election — after his campaign received millions of dollars from the Cali drug cartel. Her denied knowledge of the contributions, but that did not spare him from further attacks by Cardinal Castrillon.

"One cannot obtain power with money from crime, and if one has obtained it, even without knowing of it, you cannot keep exercising (power), which would stain the honour of the republic and damage democracy in the present and the future," the cardinal said.

A legislator allied with Mr. Samper once accused Cardinal Castrillon of having received "narco-donations" from drug trafficker Carlos Lehder while based in Pereira in the early 1980s. Cardinal Castrillon rejected the accusation as slanderous.

Cardinal Godfried Danneels
Brussels — When the news came that Pope John Paul II was facing his final hours, Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels was on a mission to China ... that exemplified his stature as a leading church diplomat.

Cardinal Danneels met government officials, Chinese Roman Catholics and representatives of other religions on a rare visit by a cardinal to the communist nation, which severed ties with the Vatican in 1951. He cut short his trip and rushed home to hold a memorial Mass for the pope Sunday in Brussels.

The Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels was coy about his own chances of succeeding to the papacy.

"That is up to heaven, what God is thinking about that, and up to the cardinals. I have no comment," Cardinal Danneels said before flying to Rome for the pope's funeral.

The multilingual 71-year-old was more forthcoming about the qualities needed for a new pontiff.

"The Church will look for a man who will continue, in a certain sense, all the good things that this Pope has begun and will also be very open and sensitive to all the new difficulties and new problems. ... because the Church is in complete revolution and evolution, so he has to adapt," Cardinal Danneels told Associated Press Television News.

He later listed some of those problems as "evangelization, the secularization in Europe, the poverty in Latin America, Africa."

Although Cardinal Danneels is seen as having a deft diplomatic touch useful for sensitive interfaith talks, some Vatican observers say his views are too progressive for conservatives within the conclave that will select the new pope in the coming weeks.

Belgian experts give Cardinal Danneels only an outside chance, if his fellow cardinals cannot agree on one of the front-runners from Italy or Latin America.

"If that fails, then they will look for compromise figure and the name of Cardinal Danneels comes up," said Rik Torfs, professor of church law at the Catholic University of Leuven. "The longer the conclave lasts, the greater the chances of Cardinal Danneels become."

Cardinal Danneels has long spoken forcefully about the need for greater "collegiality" — a Vatican code word for more democracy in John Paul's centralized church. He has also suggested that elderly popes should abdicate if they become too frail to fulfill papal duties.

"One cannot continue to bear the responsibility if you turn 90 or 100, no matter how well you're cared for," he told a magazine interviewer in 2003. "The choice of the right moment must be the prerogative of the pope, and that's how it will work."

Although close to John Paul, who appointed him as cardinal in 1983, Cardinal Danneels differed on the sensitive issues of contraception. He told a Dutch TV station last year that an HIV-positive person should use a condom rather than risk transmitting the virus.

"When someone is HIV-positive and his partner says 'I want to have (sexual) relations with you,' then he does not have to do it," Cardinal Danneels said. "But if he does, he has to use a condom. Otherwise he will commit a sin."

Cardinal Danneels also moved swiftly to distance the Belgian church from comments made by Cardinal Gustaaf Joos, who denounced gays as "sexual perverts" in an interview before his death last year.

Roman Catholicism is by far Belgium's biggest religion, but church attendance is poor. In a sign of the country's increasingly secular nature, parliament has passed laws allowing homosexuals to marry and authorizing doctors to carry out euthanasia.

When Belgian bishops visited the Vatican in November 2003, John Paul II expressed concern about the health of the church in Belgium.

Perhaps Cardinal Danneels's most difficult moment as leader of Belgium's Catholics came in 1998 when a court found the church had failed to protect the victims of a pedophile priest and ordered Cardinal Danneels to pay damages to a 12-year-old victim.

His spokesman, Toon Osaer, recently recalled the case.

"It is very difficult to be confronted with the grave faults of Church people, even if you are not responsible," Mr. Osaer told the Catholic news agency Cathobel. "That was a very hard time for the cardinal."

Evaluating John Paul's papacy, Cardinal Danneels praised the efforts to forge better relations with Muslims and Jews. In his Christmas address last year, Cardinal Danneels spoke in support of a Belgian factory manager who received death threats for employing a Muslim woman.

Cardinal Danneels was born in 1933 in the Flemish village of Kanegem. He studied in Bruges and at the Catholic University of Leuven before earning a doctorate in theology at the Gregorian University in Rome.

He was ordained in 1957 and taught theology at Leuven before John Paul appointed him bishop of Antwerp in 1977. Three years later, he was appointed to head Belgium's largest diocese, Mechelen-Brussels.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes
Sao Paulo, Brazil — As bishop of a working-class district 30 years ago, Claudio Hummes gave refuge to metalworkers staging an illegal strike — among them a fiery union leader named Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Now, Mr. Silva is Brazil's President, and the bishop has risen as well, to the rank of cardinal. As speculation mounts about the possibility of a Latin American pope, Cardinal Hummes's name repeatedly surfaces — the top candidate from the world's most populous Roman Catholic country.

Like other contenders, Cardinal Hummes has tried to play down such talk.

"In the conclave, all these things will be secondary," the Archbishop of Sao Paulo said. "It will not matter where he comes from, from which continent. It will matter that the cardinals will be in front of God, under oath, and they will have to choose the one they think is the man for this moment in the history of the church and the world."

Named cardinal in 2001, Cardinal Hummes (HOO-mez), 70, has already made his mark on the Brazilian church.

As the successor of Sao Paulo's popular Paulo Evaristo Cardinal Arns, a political activist who defended opponents of the 1964-85 military regime, Cardinal Hummes initially was regarded with reservations. Skeptics viewed him as part of a church plan to divide and depoliticize Brazil's largest archdiocese.

Today, he has won respect as a conservative on doctrine and a progressive on social issues, though not sharing Cardinal Arns's explicit support for radical "liberation theology."

"The church's challenge is to keep pace with the ongoing progress we are seeing so it can have answers to the new problems that are arising," Cardinal Hummes said.

Among his concerns is the rapid growth of evangelical Protestant sects in Brazil, said Monsignor Dario Bevilacqua, spokesman for the Sao Paulo archdiocese.

"He has said that this growth should alert us Catholics to the fact that our evangelism has been very superficial," Msgr. Bevilacqua said. "We have not done enough to broaden our efforts."

Cardinal Hummes believes in "bringing the church closer to the people, making the Church less elitist, giving it a more active role in people's lives," the spokesman said.

While he has worked to improve relations among Brazil's Christians, Jews and Muslims, he takes a strict line on gay rights, abortion, celibacy and the use of condoms — all major issues in Brazil.

"He has always been in line with the Vatican's official position," Msgr. Bevilacqua said. "He has always followed the guidelines and policies set by Pope John Paul."

Cardinal Hummes is a great grandson of a German immigrant who came to Brazil in the 19th century and married a Brazilian woman of German descent. Cardinal Hummes was born Aug. 8, 1934, in Montenegro, a small city in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Ordained a Franciscan priest in 1958, he obtained a doctorate in philosophy from Rome's Pontifical Antonianum University four year later. He concluded his studies at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossy in Geneva in 1968, returned to Brazil and taught philosophy at two seminaries and a Roman Catholic university.

In 1975, Cardinal Hummes was appointed bishop of Santo Andre, an industrial district on the outskirts of São Paulo, where he gained national attention as a defender of the striking metalworkers. Strikes were illegal and the military regime considered them a threat to national security.

The door of Cardinal Hummes's church was always open to strikers and union leaders — including Mr. Silva — who were fleeing from riot troopers. Cardinal Hummes's defence of the strikers made him a star of the Church's progressive wing, and he gained attention in Rome as well.

In 1996, John Paul appointed Cardinal Hummes as archbishop of Fortaleza, capital of the northeastern state of Ceara. Two years later, he was transferred to Sao Paulo, home to some six million Roman Catholics.

In his first day as Sao Paulo's archbishop, Cardinal Hummes lashed out at the globalized market economy for the "misery and poverty affecting millions around the world."

"Market economy has reinvented poverty in many countries," he said. "We must find a new alternative — a third way — to guarantee economic growth without sacrificing the poor and causing unemployment."

Cardinal Arns, his predecessor, was very popular with Roman Catholics in São Paulo but earned Vatican displeasure for supporting liberation theology — which sought to more actively engage the church in efforts to combat poverty and social injustice.

To rein in the popular doctrine and its defenders, the Vatican in 1989 carved up the Sao Paulo diocese into five parts, and put conservative bishops in charge of the four new districts.

Cardinal Hummes, when he succeeded Cardinal Arns in 1998, made clear that he would be more conservative in terms of doctrine.

"The fundamental mission of the church is to spread the gospel and bring people in closer contact with Jesus Christ," Cardinal Hummes said. "And it is through this contact that we can start correcting social injustices."

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Vatican City — Ahead of the secret vote for the next pope,  rigorously conservative Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany is making the biggest buzz among those betting that cardinals will go for an elderly, likely short-tenure, pontiff after John Paul's 26-year run.

Turning 78 on Saturday, two days before the start of conclave on April 18, Cardinal Ratzinger is dean of the College of Cardinals. In that role, he had the formal duty of announcing the Pope's death to foreign governments.

"The only candidate that newspapers, especially German ones, are widely talking about is ... Ratzinger, seen as a possible 'transition' pope," Marco Tosatti, a veteran of Vatican coverage, wrote in the Turin newspaper La Stampa.

Since 1981, when John Paul appointed him to one of the Vatican's most important posts — guardian of the church's doctrinal orthodoxy — Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the key men the Pope depended on in his drive to shore up the faith of the world's Roman Catholics.

Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, silenced dissident theologians and reiterated church teaching.

The Vatican frowns on cardinals' naming any candidate ahead of the conclave, but when they go into the Sistine Chapel for the election, they are widely expected to be divided into distinct camps:

— Those who want the papacy to return to the Italians, who held it for 455 years before the election of Karol Wojtyla, a Pole, who became John Paul II;

— Those who would like to see a non-Italian from Western Europe as pope;

— Those who believe Latin America's historically Roman Catholic population deserves a pontiff from one of their own.

— Others who think an African could reflect the church's increasingly diverse face.

If the cardinals will not budge from their camps, or they are not ready to elect a younger cardinal who might have a long papacy, consensus could develop around a "transition" figure, such as Cardinal Ratzinger.

Made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1977, the German prelate is one of only three among the 117 voting cardinals who were not appointed by John Paul.

"The most buzzed-about possibility is that of a transition pope, that's to say, not a very young one like the 58-year-old Wojtyla when he was elected," La Repubblica wrote, calling Cardinal Ratzinger the most "authoritative" of such prospects.

The Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera ran a full-page profile of Cardinal Ratzinger in the first of its series on papal contenders.

A Ratzinger candidacy could be opposed by reform-minded cardinals, although John Paul, by appointing nearly all of those who will vote for his successor, has put his conservative stamp on the body.

It would please hard-liners who favour continuing John Paul's policies of closing the door to women as priests and rigidly opposing abortion, euthanasia and contraception.

Objections could come from cardinals who want the next pope to be an experienced and widely admired pastoral figure, in the mould of John Paul or John XXIII.

Switzerland's Henri Cardinal Schwery said he "feels uncomfortable with certain members of the Curia who made their career" at the Vatican. It was widely read as a vote against a prelate such as Cardinal Ratzinger. The Curia is the Holy See's bureaucracy.

As John Paul's health failed, he sometimes tapped Cardinal Ratzinger to help lead ceremonies in his place, giving the cardinal an opportunity to be in the public eye.

German media have suggested that he might be hurt in the voting by his nationality.

"For a long time, it was accepted that a German can never be pope, for historical and popular psychological reasons," the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote Tuesday, an apparent reference to sensitivity over Germany's Nazi past.

Cardinal Ratzinger "could be" the next pope, the newspaper said. "Whether he will be is another question."

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re
Vatican City — Usually it is the cardinal who calls on the pope. But Giovanni Battista Re was so close to John Paul II ... that the late pontiff once interrupted an Alpine vacation to fly to the Italian cardinal's hometown.

The 71-year-old Cardinal Re, whose last name means "king" in Italian, ranks high on lists of strong contenders to become the next pope.

He has served for years in some of the Vatican's most powerful offices, including one grappling with the clergy sexual abuse scandals. Even if Cardinal Re is not chosen as pontiff, his views could sway the outcome.

Rev. Thomas Reese, a priest and Vatican expert who is editor of the Jesuit magazine America, recently called Cardinal Re "a possible kingmaker."

But the extraordinary access that Cardinal Re enjoyed near the top of the Vatican's power pyramid might be viewed as a liability by some princes of the Church, who have just witnessed an incredible outpouring of emotion in Rome as millions bid farewell their beloved John Paul.

John Paul reached out to his flock whenever he could — from informal Sunday visits to working-class parishes in Rome to jubilant rallies with adoring youths in stadiums around the world. Cardinal Re, in contrast, has a reputation for churning out paperwork from his offices; in evenings, he can sometimes be seen hobnobbing with VIPs at Rome high-society events.

He was born in 1934 in the province of Brescia, the same northern area that was home to Paul VI, who was also named Giovanni Battista.

Cardinal Re's hometown, Borno, is nestled in the foothills of the Alps, and John Paul II flew there by helicopter from his mountain vacation retreat in Lorenzago in July, 1998, to spend the day.

At the time, Cardinal Re was an archbishop, serving as the Holy See's undersecretary of state. The visit to Borno came as the Vatican was navigating the tricky passages toward setting up a historic 1999 papal pilgrimage to Romania — the first by a pope to that Orthodox country in modern times.

One shortcoming in his possible candidacy for the papacy is Cardinal Re's lack of pastoral experience. Made a bishop in 1987, he worked for years largely behind the scenes in the secretary of state's office in the Apostolic Palace, a post that allowed him to draw close to the pope.

Twin appointments by John Paul on the same day in 2000 dramatically raised Cardinal Re's profile.

In the more high-profile post, he became head of the Congregation for Bishops. In that capacity, he advised John Paul about selections to head dioceses worldwide to help shepherd the Church's 1.1 billion flock.

But Cardinal Re also inherited some of the fallout over the Church's failure to move swiftly against bishops accused of protecting priests accused of sexual abuse. The church's handling of the scandals was a major blot on John Paul's papacy in the eyes of those who accused Rome of inaction.

Cardinal Re was part of the team of top Vatican officials who huddled with U.S. cardinals when the Americans came to Rome in April, 2002, to meet with the pope about the sex abuse scandal. Six months later, it was Cardinal Re who signed a Vatican demand that U.S. bishops revamp their get-tough policy on sexual abusers in the priesthood.

Last year, he reportedly spoke with the Austrian bishop who was in charge of a seminary where a huge cache of child pornography was found, advising him to resign. The bishop later did step down.

Since 2000, Cardinal Re has also served as president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, a traditionally Roman Catholic area that has been losing faithful to evangelical Protestant sects.

In a break from his bureaucratic image, Cardinal Re led a procession of some 2,000 Indian Catholics through the streets of a Mexican town and danced Mayan dances as the Vatican sought to assure villagers that the church is aware of their poverty.

Throughout his career, Cardinal Re was extremely protective of John Paul. Although he was the first top Vatican official to publicly acknowledge that John Paul had Parkinson's disease, Cardinal Re repeatedly tried to be upbeat about the chances for recovery while other cardinals openly were talking about the possibility of resignation. Such talk, Cardinal Re said, was in "bad taste."

Norberto Cardinal Rivera
Mexico City — Norberto Cardinal Rivera has ministered for 10 years to his sprawling capital city at the heart of a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, toeing a conservative line on Church doctrine while taking more progressive stances on social issues.

The 62-year-old Archbishop of Mexico, appointed by pope John Paul II, opposes abortion and artificial contraception while speaking out against globalization, government corruption and election fraud.

The church has become more openly involved and aggressive in socio-economic and political issues during Archbishop Rivera's tenure, thanks in part to a change of government policy, which until 1992 banned church-run schools and public religious processions.

"He very clearly believes that government's policy has been inadequate to improving the standard of living of the ordinary faithful," said Roderic Ai Camp, a religion expert who teaches at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "Implicitly, he's been critical of economic globalization."

As Mexico's foremost cardinal, Archbishop Rivera is given an outside chance of becoming the next pope if the conclave of cardinals opts for a Latin American, although prelates from Brazil and Honduras are considered stronger contenders.

He has maintained a high profile in Mexico's news media, officiating at celebrity weddings and commenting on current affairs during and after mass at the Mexico City Cathedral — which happens to face city hall and the Presidential Palace.

He recently weighed in on the debate over Mexico City's popular, left-leaning mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, declaring that "there is no room (in Mexico) for a populist government."

While winning praise for defending human rights, Archbishop Rivera also has co-operated closely with socially and politically conservative groups in Mexico.

In addition to Spanish, he speaks Latin and Italian — a virtual requirement for a pope — as well as some English.

He may not have enough of the natural charisma, however, that his colleagues may be looking for to succeed the dynamic John Paul, according to Rev. Manuel Olimon, a professor of religious history at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

"Something that is very important is the personal charm," Father Olimon said. "His manner is not very agreeable or pleasant. And you could say he is not flexible in his speech, but abrupt."

Born in La Purisima in Mexico's northwestern Durango state, Norberto Rivera Carrera joined the local seminary at 13 and was ordained a priest 11 years later.

The cardinal, whom colleagues describe as a workaholic, emerged as an extremely traditionalist church leader who sided with Rome on the most controversial of political and theological questions. He made international headlines by continuing to condemn birth control at a time when Mexico's population was growing 2 per cent a year.

In 1985, while serving as bishop of Tehuacan in central Puebla state, he irked many clergymen by refusing to rethink sermons that preached an inflexible theological line at a time when the "new church" and its liberation theology were in vogue.

But his pro-Vatican views won him the favour of church officials in Rome and he was named Mexico City's archbishop by John Paul in 1995.

Since his arrival in the capital district, home to 20 million people, Archbishop Rivera has worked to cultivate closer relations with Jews and Muslims in a country where about 90 per cent of the population is at least nominally Catholic.

Working in Mexico City, he has been somewhat removed from the fast-growing Protestant evangelical movement in the countryside — and from the Catholic Church's controversial decision to suspend training of Indian lay deacons, despite an apparent shortage of priests.

Despite his conservative background, Archbishop Rivera is credited with a supporting role in mediating a dispute in the mid-1990s between the Vatican and the outspoken former bishop of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Samuel Ruiz, who was accused by the government and conservatives of fomenting Indian rebellion in the poor southern state of Chiapas. The Vatican had been prepared to expel Father Ruiz, but he stayed on until 1999, when he retired at the age of 75.

Archbishop Rivera "would probably have been critical of Ruiz personally but not critical of the church supporting the interest of the indigenous peasants in Chiapas," Mr. Ai Camp said.

Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga
Tegucigalpa — Honduran Archbishop Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga is a linguist, scientist and saxophone player — and a widely respected moderate cardinal.

As perhaps the top candidate to become Latin America's first pope, he also is one of the few contenders to openly welcome his inclusion on the list of front-runners.

"Only the Holy Spirit knows who the successor is to His Sanctity, although it makes me happy that I'm mentioned so the world knows good things exist in Honduras," Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, 62, told reporters after celebrating Mass in Tegucigalpa earlier this month.

While he has spoken out against free-market policies and in defence of millions living in abject poverty in Central America, he is an opponent of the "liberation theology" that once supported leftist rebellions and sought to bend the rules of orthodoxy to bring the church closer to Indian groups and the poor.

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga is the first cardinal appointed from his small country of 6.8 million people and only the second ever from Central America.

That could dim his papal prospects, said religion expert Roderic Ai Camp, a professor at Claremont McKenna College in California.

"It's very unlikely that someone representing that small a country, unless he's viewed truly as a representative of the whole Latin American constituency, would have much of a chance," Mr. Ai Camp said.

The cardinal does have regional ties. He served as president of the Latin American bishops' conference in the late 1990s, using the forum to denounce foreign debt payments forced on the region's countries because they "restrict possibilities for development."

"Meanwhile, the corrupt elite of those nations continue enriching themselves at the cost of their own people," he said.

He has served on several commissions studying ways to eliminate corruption and in the late 1990s headed a committee that oversaw transition of the Honduran police from military to civilian control.

He also took up environmental causes, leading a protest march in 2002 against a Canadian mining company accused of damaging the environment, said Danilo Aceituno, director of Honduran Catholic Radio and a friend of the cardinal.

In church matters, the cardinal has had to grapple with a phenomenon threatening Catholicism throughout Latin America: the steady inroads made by evangelical Protestant churches, which some perceive as being more involved in the daily lives of their parishioners then the hierarchical Roman Catholic Church.

Rodriguez Maradiaga angered Honduran evangelicals several years ago with his suggestion that some Protestant denominations were making "an industry" out of church collections and tithes. His charge reflected Vatican irritation at the evangelicals' growing influence in the region.

Although less rigidly conservative than some Latin American officials appointed by John Paul II, the cardinal has repeatedly spoken out against abortion and the destruction of embryos in scientific work. He once suggested, however, that it would be praiseworthy to manipulate the genetic code "to alleviate illnesses."

"The challenge for the new pope will be the ethical-medical discussions about genetic manipulation and the attempt to clone a human being," he told reporters.

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga opposes gay marriage and the ordination of women as priests, and recently backed the pope's rejection of euthanasia when, he said, "the world witnessed the grotesque spectacle of seeing Terri Schiavo die." He was referring to the Florida woman who died last month after the removal of a feeding tube that had kept her alive since she suffered brain damage in 1990.

Like John Paul, the cardinal is a man "very open to other religions," said Rev. Jesus Orlando Erazo, 52, a Catholic priest in neighbouring El Salvador, where Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga studied. "He has opened an inter-religion dialogue as John Paul II did. ... He doesn't shut off dialogue with other beliefs."

The archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga was named a cardinal by John Paul in February 2001. Born into an upper middle-class family, he said he first thought of becoming a priest at 10.

As a young man, he studied mathematics, physics and natural sciences in El Salvador, and later earned degrees in theology from the Lateran Pontifical University in Rome, as well as a degree in clinical psychology in Austria.

He speaks or has studied Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Latin and Greek. He has taught chemistry, physics and music, and plays several musical instruments, with a special enthusiasm for the saxophone.

Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn
Vienna — Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn strives for a low profile as leader of Austria's Roman Catholics, but that goal has not always been easy.

He owes a key promotion 10 years ago to a pedophile scandal involving his predecessor, and last year had to confront a child pornography scandal in a rural diocese.

Cardinal Schoenborn, 60, is multilingual and has friends in the Vatican. He is a scholar, comfortable in the pulpit, and is respected by Jews, Muslims and Orthodox Christians. He refuses to comment publicly on his position as one of the favourites to succeed Pope John Paul; friends say he would serve — but not eagerly — if chosen.

The cardinal's spokesman, Erich Leitenberger, said Cardinal Schoenborn was "amused" about media reports that he was a front runner.

Such reticence is not unusual. Cardinal Schoenborn has said he would not speak to the media until after a new pontiff is chosen — in keeping with a quiet management style focused on steering the Austrian church around controversy.

That has not always been possible. The austere, soft-spoken cardinal owed his own climb to higher echelons of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to the scandal involving his predecessor, Hans Groer, who was accused of abusing young boys.

Appointed Vienna's archbishop in 1995 to replace Cardinal Groer, Cardinal Schoenborn initially stayed silent. He showed courage three years later, however, personally apologizing "for everything that my predecessors and other holders of church office committed against people in their trust."

In another instance reflecting his dislike of confrontation, he fired his reform-minded vicar, Helmut Schueller, one year after becoming cardinal in 1998 — by shoving a letter of dismissal under Faterh Schueller's door.

Yet, while grappling with last year's pornography scandal, he took on the Vatican.

"It's sad that it took so long to act," he said of Rome's reluctance to investigate the wrongdoing, saying later of the scandal: "The church is greater than its human weaknesses."

Ideologically, his tenure has been marked by a turn away from inner-church reform, disappointing Catholics looking for more rights for women or compromise on priesthood and marriage.

Instead he has focused toward respect for Catholic dogma — while understanding those who fall by the wayside.

"It is not easy for the church to find the right path between the ... protection of marriage and family on the one hand and ... compassion with human failings," he said last year, alluding to church opposition to — but his personal understanding of — divorce. His audience, at a funeral Mass for Austrian president Thomas Klestil, included both Mr. Klestil's widow and his divorced wife.

Born Jan. 22, 1945, into an aristocratic Bohemian family, Cardinal Schoenborn's destiny appeared to have been influenced by his heritage — 19 of his ancestors were priests, bishops or archbishops.

After joining the Dominican order in 1963, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 by Cardinal Franz Koenig. Like most Austrians, Cardinal Schoenborn idolized Cardinal Koenig for his social engagement and courage to speak out on controversial issues. But Cardinal Koenig's overwhelming personality initially eclipsed Cardinal Schoenborn.

In the late 1960s, when Cardinal Koenig played tennis in Cardinal Schoenborn's hometown of Schrunns, Cardinal Schoenborn "always fought to be Koenig's ball-boy," said Schoenborn confidant Heinz Nussbaumer in a telling reflection of the later relationship between the two churchmen.

Because of Cardinal Koenig's strong persona, Cardinal Schoenborn "had a difficult start," said Mr. Nussbaumer, publisher of a Catholic weekly. "But later he was able to develop his own personality."

His reputation as a scholar — and bridge builder to Orthodox Christians — began with a dissertation on icons even before he became a theology professor at the Catholic University of Fribourg, Switzerland, in 1975.

He built on his image as an ecumenist with visits to the patriarchs of Russia and Romania and three years ago met with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on the first trip of a Catholic church leader to the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution.

Normally above the fray of international politics, he spoke out sharply in 2002 about U.S. President George W. Bush's inclusion of Iran with prewar Iraq and North Korea as part of the "axis of evil."

"In the best case, it's naive," he said, contending that such comments could "alienate Iran's moderate factions."

Fluent in French and Italian, proficient in English and Spanish, he is well-connected in the Vatican, with friends that include Cardinals Godfried Danneels of Belgium and Jean-Marie Lustiger of France, both papal contenders.

His past outreach to Israel also strengthens his papal chances. But his age could work against him — at 60 he is among the youngest of the major contenders.

Angelo Cardinal Scola
Vatican City — Angelo Cardinal Scola has glided down the Grand Canal in a sleek black gondola, started a cross-cultural magazine and travelled to Kenya ... to meet parishioners of an Italian priest, enlivening a résumé heavy on theological credentials.

Since 2002, Cardinal Scola has been Patriarch of Venice, an archdiocese that saw three of its cardinals become popes in the last century: Pius X in 1903; John XXIII in 1958 and John Paul I in 1978.

Cardinal Scola is one of the youngest and newest princes of the Church. He was made a cardinal in 2003, the last time pope John Paul II bestowed the red hats in his papacy.

At 63, he might appeal to cardinals looking to elect a pope who seems still dynamic after poor health forced John Paul to drastically reduce his public engagements in his last years.

Cardinal Scola's staunch conservatism — he is opposed to women as priests — might reassure those keen on preserving John Paul's legacy of fiercely defending church teaching on moral and social issues.

Catholic News Service, the news agency of the U.S. Bishops Conference, recently rated Cardinal Scola, the son of a northern Italian truck driver and homemaker, as perhaps the "most formidable Italian candidate for the papacy."

Italians dominated the papacy for centuries and are likely to try to regain their hold, broken in 1978 by the surprise election of the Polish-born John Paul.

Affable and proud of his working-class roots, Cardinal Scola seems likely to project an accessible image. But he is short on pastoral work with rank-and-file faithful, and that could hurt him, coming after a pope who reached out to his flock worldwide.

Cardinal Scola spent the first two decades after his 1970 ordination in the lecture halls and libraries of renowned Roman Catholic universities and theological training grounds, notably in Fribourg, Switzerland, and the Lateran Pontifical University in Rome.

He worked closely with Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss priest considered to be one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, and with Mr. von Balthasar's Jesuit teacher, Henri de Lubac.

Mr. von Balthasar, along with John Paul's close aide Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, were at the forefront of a conservative movement to reevaluate the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s.

While pursuing theological studies, Cardinal Scola was involved in Communion and Liberation, a conservative Italian Catholic group that blends political activism with faith-based fervour as it seeks to make its weight felt in the country's decision-making.

Some Christian Democrat ministers and other political figures have been close to the movement.

The Vatican's official biography of Cardinal Scola says he stopped active participation in Communion and Liberation in 1991 when John Paul appointed him bishop of Grosseto, a small city in central Italy.

Venice offered a particular challenge for a pastor — the flock is shrinking, but not necessarily for crises in faith.

The lagoon city's native population has been dwindling for decades because of the soaring prices of food and other necessities, which have to be delivered by foot or boat in the car-free city, and the damage to housing stock by high tides.

Cardinal Scola decided to rent out vacant apartments in church property to young couples and families.

Reminiscent of John Paul's pilgrimages to countries where Catholics are a tiny minority, he last year journeyed to Kenya to visit a parish whose pastor is Venetian.

Venice boasts a history as a bridge between West and East from its days as a seafaring power and a cosmopolitan crossroads between the Holy Roman Empire and Byzantium. Cardinal Scola quickly drew on this traditional mix, starting a magazine called Oasis, to emphasize links between Western Christians and countries where Muslims are the majority.

Cardinal Scola has been quoted as saying: "Either integration occurs in Europe or I don't know where it could happen."

An Internet enthusiast, he can been seen in photos on the patriarchate's website riding in a gondola toward the dock near St. Mark's Basilica to take up his post.

Cardinal Scola is a prolific writer, although his essays and articles make for rather dense reading. He has written extensively on Satanism, a hot topic as the Vatican worries about the devil's lure, particularly with young people.

His conservative views on morality led to his appointment as an adviser to the Pontifical Council for the Family.

The cardinal has echoed John Paul in his denunciation of excess consumerism. "The lifestyle of the West tends toward the obscene," the Italian newsweekly Panorama quoted him as saying.

The cardinal has also embraced John Paul's closing the door to the possibility of women priests.

"The church does not have the power to modify the practice, uninterrupted for 2,000 years, of calling only men" to the priesthood, Cardinal Scola told reporters in 1997.

Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi
Vatican City — Throughout his steadily rising church career, Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi of Milan has had a knack of being in the right place at the right time.

The outcome of the secret conclave of cardinals to elect the next pope will tell if that pattern still holds for Cardinal Tettamanzi, the favourite of many of those who think the papacy will return to the Italians after the 26-year tenure of a Polish pope broke their 455-year hold on the papacy.

A 71-year-old theologian whom John Paul often consulted, Cardinal Tettamanzi is a moderate, but his staunch defence of the Pope's teaching against abortion and euthanasia and other moral positions could win over conservatives.

His first bishop's post, in the Adriatic town of Ancona, was in a diocese near the Loreto shrine so dear to John Paul that the pontiff visited it five times.

Later, he was cardinal in Genoa — boldly questioning the impact of globalization on the working class — when that port city came under the world spotlight during the riot-scarred G8 summit in 2001.

And as the moment nears for cardinals to size each other up and decide who should shepherd the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, Cardinal Tettamanzi leads Italy's high-profile archdiocese of Milan.

John Paul appointed him to the post in July, 2002, four years after elevating him to cardinal's rank.

Cardinal Tettamanzi moved quickly up the church's power ladder, once he had his foot on the first rungs with his appointment to the Ancona-Osimo diocese in 1989.

"He was a theologian the Pope consulted often," recalled Msgr. Paolucci Bedini, now the diocese's vicar-general and a priest there during Cardinal Tettamanzi's 1½-year tenure. "He was always running back and forth between Ancona and Rome."

Cardinal Tettamanzi specializes in moral theology, especially social doctrine.

He received a doctorate in 1959 at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, a prestigious academic address in the Vatican's world.

He worked on two of John Paul's most important encyclicals, and is considered among the ghostwriters.

One of encyclicals, the 1993 Splendour of Truth, defended absolute morals against liberal theologians.

The other was the 1995 Evangelium Vitae in which the Pope denounced a "culture of death" and delivered the church's most forceful condemnation of abortion, euthanasia and experimentation on human embryos. It also restated the Vatican's ban on birth control.

Cardinal Tettamanzi's help in projecting an unwavering Vatican defence of traditional teaching on moral issues might turn off progressive thinkers among the voting cardinals, although, with most of them appointed by conservative John Paul, his staunch defence of church teaching would likely gain him many points.

John Paul championed labour rights, including his ringing defence of the Solidarity free-trade movement in his homeland that figured in the demise of Soviet bloc communism. He also repeatedly warned of dangers of unbridled capitalism.

For electors looking for a pope who might follow those lines, Cardinal Tettamanzi could be their man.

The cardinal's moment came during the July 2001 G-8 summit in Genoa, which drew hundreds of thousands of people to protest what they denounced as unequal distribution of wealth in the world's globalized markets.

The city was trashed by rioters and a protester was shot dead by police as leaders of the world's richest countries held talks in a sealed off section of Genoa's historic centre, including the cathedral.

"We are witnessing a clear contrast between capital and work," Cardinal Tettamanzi wrote in Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian bishops conference, in the run-up to the summit.

"In the bazaar of the global village, paying the price is not the industrialists but the working men and women," Cardinal Tettamanzi wrote in an article that some dismayed Italians saw as fuelling the anger of protesters descending on the city.

The then-Genoa cardinal added: "Profit isn't the absolute value of man." He also denounced "ethical shortcomings in those holding power."

Cardinal Tettamanzi, born March 14, 1934, in Renate, a working-class town near Milan, is seen by some observers as lacking charisma. That quality, in a pope who will have to follow dynamic, crowd-pleasing John Paul, will likely be high on the cardinals' checkoff list in the conclave.

Short and plain-faced, Cardinal Tettamanzi does not cut a particularly memorable figure, and his world travels are less extensive than some candidates. But he is credited with knowing how to reach his flock.

"I'm the first one to forget a speech, but I never forget a handshake," Milan daily Corriere della Sera quoted him as saying.

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