Tensions at the Vatican As Cardinal Nominations Loom

By Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere
The Sinchew
February 16, 2012

VATICAN CITY, February 16, 2012 (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday will put his stamp of authority on the institution that will elect his successor as he appoints 22 new cardinals in a tense climate in the Vatican administration.

The new "princes of the Church" will be presented with scarlet-red birettas and gold rings at a grandiose ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica that Vatican observers say could increase the chances of the next pope being Italian.

Eighteen of the cardinals are under the age of 80 and can therefore take part in the conclave that elects new popes, bringing to 63 the "elector cardinals" named by Benedict compared to 62 by his predecessor John Paul II.

Critics say the appointments show a strong bias towards Europe as out of the 125 "elector cardinals" 67 will now be from Europe, with just 22 from South America, 15 from North America, 11 from Africa and 10 from Asia and the Pacific.

The nomination of seven Italians also brings to 30 the elector cardinals from Italy -- almost a quarter of the total, far outweighing any other country.

Some observers say the Vatican's increasingly powerful Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone is behind the promotion of Italians through the hierarchy.

Among the key appointments on Saturday will be New York archbishop Timothy Dolan, Toronto archbishop Thomas Collins, as well as the bishop of Hong Kong, John Tong Hon, and major archbishop George Alencherry from India.

Following Saturday's consistory, the pope is to announce dates for the canonisation of seven new saints including the first Native American saint, a Mohawk girl called Kateri Tekakwitha who lived in the 17th century.

The consistory will be preceded on Friday by a closed-door meeting between the pope and the cardinals-designate, which is expected to focus on an issue close to Benedict's heart -- combating growing secularism in Western societies.

It will be followed on Sunday by a Vatican mass with all the new cardinals.

The consistory comes after days of high-profile leaks, corruption allegations and even a discredited report on a plot to kill the pope, which have raised fears of a power struggle at the heart of the Catholic Church.

One of the reported rumours was that the pope is lining up the archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola, to be his successor. Another alleged that the Vatican's bank was failing to comply with money laundering rules.

The rumours have all been denied by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who this week called for "calm, cold blood and reason" and said the leaks were intended to "sow confusion" and put the Church "in a bad light."

The pope himself appeared to react to the poisonous climate on Wednesday speaking to seminarians in Rome, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

"There is a lot of talk about the Church, a lot of things being said. Let us hope there is also talk about our faith," he was quoted as saying.

Supporters of the pope have also issued a strongly-worded defence.

The pope is "a gentle shepherd who will not retreat against wolves," said Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican daily, Osservatore Romano.

"This pontificate will go down in history, dissolving rock-hard stereotypes into dust and battling irresponsible and shameful behaviour," he said.

The key question being asked by Vatican insiders is whether Benedict -- who turns 85 in April and is well respected for his academic work as a theologian -- is becoming too distant from the day-to-day management of the Church.

The issue is crucial as Bertone's ascendancy is seen as being one of the reasons behind the recent rash of revelations. Bertone's critics accuse him of being a poor manager and of lacking diplomatic vision for the global church.

"I know how sad the pope is" due to the scandals, Cardinal Walter Kasper said recently.

The cardinal -- a German like the pope -- emphasised that in his 30 years in Rome, the pope, the former Joseph Ratzinger, "has never entered into these internal quarrels."

The priorities for Benedict's papacy have been a new drive for evangelisation, a dialogue with atheists and a campaign to purify the Church following thousands of scandals of sexual abuse of children by priests.

A recent biography of Benedict by Vatican expert Marco Politi, however, has criticised the pope for concentrating too much on doctrine and diminishing the clout that the Church had on the international stage under his predecessor.

In his "Joseph Ratzinger: The Crisis of a Papacy", Politi said that the pope often seemed disconnected and badly advised, especially in the first years following his election in 2005 when he made a series of gaffes.

"At the peak of the media attention... when the Vatican could control neither events nor communication, it back-tracked," Politi said.

But another Vatican expert, Sandro Magister, says the problem is not that Benedict is not attentive to the needs of the Church but that he is "alone".

"Benedict XVI's loneliness is due to the limited number in his entourage who can share the depth and breadth of his thought," he wrote recently, adding: "The upper echelons of hierarchy, the Curia are not at his level."








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