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Spanish cardinal holds the reins until election

At the moment of the Pope's death on Sunday morning Australian time, 78 year old Spanish Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo temporarily became the Church's leading decision maker.

Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo - the camerlengo, or chamberlain of the Vatican - will be the administrative, although not the spiritual, father of the world's more than 1 billion Catholics until a new pope is elected within the next few weeks.

As the Pope lay in state at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Sunday morning, it was Cardinal Martinez Somalo who recited prayers in Latin and sprinkled holy water. In his red robe and lace-trimmed white cassock, the little-known cardinal suddenly was propelled into the world's spotlight.

A day after the death of Pope John Paul II, Sydney's Cardinal George Pell said there had been discussion about his successor among the few cardinals he had met.

But it would be wrong to describe such discussions purely in a political sense, he said.

"I've never been to a conclave (to elect a new pope) before," Cardinal Pell said on ABC radio. "It would be a great mistake to see it in exclusively or heavily political terms.

"There will be debate and discussion on what is the best way to present the message of Christ, the best way to live a Catholic life. But that's not politics in the way that we generally understand it."

He said the topic of John Paul's succession had occasionally emerged in talks with other cardinals.

"I'm quite sure that the general line - fidelity to basic Catholic teachings - is absolutely unassailable," he said. "I don't think that anyone who really knows the church believes that any radical change is likely.

Natinal Catholic Reporter Rome correspondent John Allen said that John Paul II set high standards, and finding a worthy successor will not be an easy task.

"The story is not just one of change, however, but also of continuity," he said. "This is not merely because the Catholic church has a permanent body of teaching that it believes is never subject to alteration, but also because some popes redefine the papacy in permanent ways. John Paul II was almost certainly one of those epochal popes whose legacy will live on."

He suggested that the cardinal electors would be wanting to retain the following aspects of his papacy: Political Actor,
Media Figure, Traveller, and Attention to youth.

Spanish cardinal holds the reins until election (Sydney Morning Herald/New York Times 4/4/05)
Catholics won't face big change: Pell (Daily Telegraph/Australian Associated Press 4/4/05)
John Paul II set high standards for successor (National Catholic Reporter 4/4/05)


5 Apr 2005