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New Pope unlikely to be from US
Updated: 2005-04-03 09:38

When the cardinals enter their secretive conclave to pick the new pope, the 11 Americans voting will be the second-largest national group behind the Italians. But don't expect an American pope — Vatican experts are absolutely convinced it won't happen.

US president Bush listens to Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in this June 4, 2004 file photo. Bush called Pope John Paul II a 'champion of human dignity' as he awaited word on April 2 on the ailing pope's condition. Bush opened his weekly radio address with a comment about John Paul, who lies close to death at the Vatican. [AP]

"The economic, political and military power of the United States leads to resentments, and that's part of the human dynamic," George Weigel, John Paul II's biographer, said before the pope's death.

An American would be "virtually impossible," he said.

The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things magazine agreed. An American pontiff "would give not only the appearance but perhaps the substance of increasing what is perceived by many as the inordinate hegemony of American power."

The Rev. Thomas Reese of America magazine noted that in past centuries "the church always tried to keep (the papacy) out of the hands of the superpower" of the day, whether the Holy Roman Empire, Spain or France. The exception, the 14th century French popes who moved the Holy See to Avignon, proved disastrous.

There are other factors that make Americans unattractive papal candidates.

Popes need to be the masters of many languages but most Americans are fluent only in English, Reese said.

The country's clerical sex abuse scandal also hasn't helped America's reputation within the church and in Rome, and the U.S. church already had a reputation for being troublesome.

Observers also predict the American cardinals won't form any united bloc to work effectively for a particular policy, candidate or region such as neighboring Latin America.

The U.S. cardinals "are not as united as they were 10 or even five years ago," Neuhaus said, and lack the "common mind and approach that has characterized the American cardinals at some points in the past."

They range from staunch conservatives like Francis George of Chicago and James Stafford, head of a Vatican tribunal, to Los Angeles' Roger Mahony and Washington's Theodore McCarrick, regarded as rather more flexible and pragmatic.

"The difference in ecclesial vision between Cardinal Mahony and Cardinal George is substantial and broad," Weigel said. "I would not expect them to agree on what's necessary. And ditto between Cardinal McCarrick and Cardinal Stafford."

Neuhaus and Weigel, both traditionalists, said Vatican friends had commented that it was too bad George is American because he would make an attractive candidate otherwise. However, Weigel does think George, who is in line to become president of the U.S. bishops' conference in 2007, will have personal influence among fellow electors.

The best America could hope, perhaps, would be the election of a cardinal who once was an American.

Reese sees a dark-horse candidate in Archbishop Lubomyr Husar, 72, of Lviv, who heads Ukraine's Greek Catholic Church. The respected churchman left his homeland in 1944, studied and became a priest and citizen in the United States, but then returned to Ukraine in 1994, after the Soviet Union broke apart.

Still, as much as nationality, Husar's membership in an Eastern rite and in a religious order (the Studites) would make him a surprising choice for pope.

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