Is Cardinal Ratzinger chanting "Santo Subito"?

The first vote by the papal conclave on Monday cannot come soon enough, if only to relieve the incessant speculation about frontrunners. The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post all have repeated the forecast in Milan's Corriere della Sera that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is the man to beat. Tracy Wilkinson and Richard Boudreaux explain in today's Los Angeles Times:

Vatican experts at several of Italy's leading newspapers reported that Ratzinger was gaining support among his red-hatted colleagues. Luigi Accattoli, writing in Corriere della Sera, Italy's largest daily, said Ratzinger had won the support of about 40 cardinals in pre-conclave jockeying -- still short of the two-thirds majority needed.

Ratzinger represents the camp that advocates hewing closely to John Paul's most traditional policies. An opposing bloc of cardinals is said to support change and "collegiality," which refers to decentralization of Vatican power and the restoration of more independence to local dioceses.

Ratzinger, who turns 78 on Saturday, also may appeal to those seeking an older pope and a shorter, "transitional" papacy that would give the church time to absorb John Paul's legacy before charting its future.

Both The Washington Post and The New York Times float the theory that the widespread chants of "Santo Subito" at John Paul's funeral have now become into a tool of Ratzinger's promoters.

The Post's Daniel Williams quotes the editor of a liberal Catholic newsletter based in Italy:

Some Catholic analysts regard the official adulation as more than simple admiration. Rather, they contend, it is aimed at influencing the election of a new pope in a conclave set to begin April 18. "This is a movie script promoted by cardinals who want continuity, who want someone to be selected who follows the pope's line on everything," said Giovanni Avena, editor of the Catholic newsletter Adista.

[Fun with Google translations: An Adista page once linked from We Are Church offers this stirring endorsement: "I read Adista because it is indeed free of forehead to the Church." -- Alex Zanotelli, missionary.]

Williams offers the best wordplay of these articles, calling Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, the retired archbishop of Milan, "a kind of anti-Ratzinger."

The New York Times adds these details, including fresh grousings from Hans Kung:

The movement for canonization may be tied to pre-conclave maneuvering. According to this interpretation, it is an effort to build a consensus of like-minded cardinals, or even to position one of John Paul's inner circle as the best successor. The theory is that only someone of great weight, like a Cardinal Ratzinger or Cardinal Ruini, someone close to the pope or his thinking, could follow a man of such spiritual magnitude.

Emphasizing canonization is an effort to show that "only continuity is allowed in the succession of John Paul," said Alberto Melloni, a historian of Vatican conclaves.

Hans Kung, a prominent Swiss theologian who has been at odds with the Vatican, said a move to push for sainthood was a means of pressing the cardinals to choose a successor in line with the pope's conservative thinking.

He was quoted on Monday by Reuters as saying, "A campaign for Pope John Paul's beatification, inspired and engineered by the Vatican, is in full swing, and it will try to smother all internal criticism." Beatification is a major step toward canonization.

Given the warning that "he who enters a pope leaves a cardinal," it's tempting to think these pro-Ratzinger signals could well be coming from anti-Ratzinger forces. Then again, if Ratzinger is elected and quickly announces John Paul's beatification, Kung will earn GetReligion's Strange New Respect award for the second quarter of 2005.

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