Deep rifts set up drawn-out papal vote: experts

Pope Benedict XVI, who will be stepping down at the end of the month, waves during an audience with Rome's parish priests on Feb 14, 2013 at the Paul VI hall at the Vatican.

VATICAN CITY - What would appear at first glance to be a cakewalk for a staunch conservative, to follow in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI, will be anything but Vatican experts say.

Of the 117 cardinal electors, 67 were named by the outgoing pontiff, and the other 50 by his beloved predecessor and ideological soulmate John Paul II.

More than half of them are European including 28 Italians, which points strongly to a successor in the same mould as Benedict, who yearned for a rebirth of Christian faith on the Old Continent.

But the arithmetic is misleading, given the water that has flowed under the bridges of the Tiber since the 2005 conclave that elevated the Polish pope's German protege after just four voting sessions.

The gaffes and scandals that came to characterise Benedict's papacy, combined with unflattering comparisons between the introverted German and the charismatic Pole, have laid the foundations for divisions and dissent.

Benedict, who took office as the Roman Catholic Church appeared cut adrift, proved unable to quell public relations disasters, came up short in addressing an avalanche of scandals over child sex abuse by priests and made only modest progress in efforts to clean up the Vatican's murky financial dealings.

But insiders have pointed to the "Vatileaks" scandal, in which the pope's butler stole documents containing revelations about corruption and mismanagement that turned up in a tell-all book, as the last straw.

More than any of the other crises, Vatileaks underscored the cerebral Benedict's failure to stamp his authority over the Curia, the Church's secretive and powerful governing body dominated by feuding Italian clerics.

"The scandals that brought enormous pain to Benedict XVI had the effect of digging up divisions," Franca Giansoldati wrote in the Rome daily Il Messaggero on Thursday.

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