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Archbishop's New Assignment Could Signal His Future as Pope

July 12, 2002|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ROME — In what was widely seen here as a key move in the politics of papal succession, the Vatican announced Thursday that Genoa's archbishop, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, has been chosen by Pope John Paul II to head the influential Milan archdiocese.

"The Vatican is setting up Tettamanzi as a strong candidate," said Wilton Wynn, a Rome-based expert on papal politics. "He is being put in what you'd call a pole position for the next conclave."

With about 1,000 parishes, Milan is one of the largest archdioceses in the world, and many popes have come from there.

After a pope dies or resigns, the College of Cardinals convenes a conclave to elect the next pope from among its own members, and Tettamanzi, 68, is now clearly the leading candidate of the powerful Italian bloc.

"On doctrine and morals he is extremely rigid ... but on a political level ... he's a critic of globalization," said Sandro Magister, a Vatican-watcher for L'Espresso, a leading Italian newsmagazine.

Speculation has mounted in recent months that John Paul, the first non-Italian to hold the office in 455 years, might retire soon due to ill health.

The 82-year-old pontiff, who shows symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and Vatican spokesmen have tried to rule out that possibility. But on a May trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria, the pope's words were often unintelligibly slurred. The Vatican's announcement of Tettamanzi's appointment praised him for the "clarity and depth" of his thought in theological teaching. He is seen by many as a moderate who could mediate between liberals and conservatives.

Tettamanzi supports John Paul's conservative positions on issues such as the ban on birth control but is seen as more liberal on economic issues. Before last year's Group of 8 industrial nations summit in Genoa, he called on wealthy countries not to forget the poor. He was seen as sympathetic to the anti-globalization protesters who gathered in Genoa for the summit.

After the demonstrations turned violent, he drew sharp criticism from conservative politicians.

The position he took in Genoa might endear him, however, to cardinals from Africa, Latin America and Asia, many of whom are concerned about the impact of global economic trends on people in their nations. A majority of cardinals are either Italian or from those three continents, so strong support from both blocs would give a candidate a good chance of being elected.

"Cardinal Tettamanzi has the advantage of being a person who is very affable, gentle and kind," Magister said. "His characteristics are much like those of John XXIII--the characteristics of a Good Shepherd."

Tettamanzi was ordained a priest in 1957 by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who went on to become Pope Paul VI. Tettamanzi was elevated to the rank of cardinal in 1998, and replaces Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, 75, a favorite of many liberals, who is retiring as Milan's archbishop because of age.

Tettamanzi is likely to be a strong candidate for pope until he is about 72, but John Paul "could quite easily live another five years," predicted Father Thomas Reese, editor of America, a New York-based Jesuit weekly. "Judging by the last papal conclave, it would also depend very much on whether the Italians were united behind a candidate. They were not at the last conclave."

"I think the Italians would like to have the papacy back, but it's a different world from the beginning of the 20th century, when the overwhelming majority of cardinals were Italians," Reese added. In the current College of Cardinals, about 15% are Italian and 43% are from Latin America, Africa and Asia, Reese said.

Wynn predicted that Tettamanzi's chances would not be too strong, largely because he has little experience abroad and does not have the foreign language skills of many seen as papal candidates.

"He is a highly regarded person, a brilliant man, a great scholar," Wynn said. "But he lacks the international dimension that a pope must have.... But being in Milan, his chances are much better than they were when he was in Genoa."

*

Elisabeth Morris of The Times' Rome Bureau contributed to this report.

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