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It's official: Pope's on a "rope"

Pope John Paul II attempts to talk from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 30, 2005. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

Yeah, the headline is in bad taste, but since I’m apparently going to “hell” anyway, I’ve got nothing to lose. As the Pope John Paul II Deathwatch continues, word is out from the Vatican that he is officially on a feeding tube (through his nose). (AP):

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said John Paul was fitted with a nasogastric tube to “improve the calorie intake” and help him recover his strength.

The statement was issued shortly after the pope tried unsuccessfully to speak to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square for the second time in a week. After managing just a rasp of his voice, he blessed well-wishers by making the sign of the cross with his hand and withdrew from his window.

Pope Politics

Since we’re in between election cycles here, why not play horse race with papal candidates? Speculation about possible successors has been going on for a while, even though JPII hasn’t kicked it yet.

There is a piece in the London Observer that gives thumbnail sketches of possible successors. Because 97% of the 120 cardinals were appointed by the Pope, there’s not a chance in good old hell that a more moderate Pope is on the horizon. The “traditionalists” are closing ranks to ensure any movement on female priest, celibacy, homosexuality and reproductive rights will be quashed.

The fact that nearly 65 percent of Catholics live in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the article notes, may influence the pick, since the northern hemisphere has seen a loss in followers. The contrary view is that they need another white guy in place to stop the hemorrhage. I will be surprised if they go with a Pope of color; it would generate an interesting response in this country, to be sure.

* German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: The 78-year-old is a hardline conservative and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s chief think tank, which has dominated discussions on sexual morality and birth control, and prevented liberals from gaining ground. Even though he is in the inner circle, he is considered a long shot.

* Cardinal Francis Arinze, 72, of Nigeria. He would be the first black African pontiff since Gelasius I (492-496). Arinze is said to take a hardline position on abortion and contraception and denounces homosexuality.

* Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, 62, from Honduras, who teamed up with Bono to campaign against third-world debt

* Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels, 71 is seen as too liberal.

* Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, 58, is a favorite of the European traditionalists but is seen as too young (!).

Also, it looks like there was some sort of Pope Derby going on in Ireland even back in 2002, on the BBC News site. Someone nominated Father Dougal McGuire of Craggy Island, a scatterbrained priest character in a popular sitcom, Father Ted. His odds with the bookmakers are set at 1000-1.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding