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Papal Vote Is Subject to Campaigning

April 13, 2005

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Albeit on a small scale, the days before the conclave that will choose Pope John Paul II’s successor have the hallmarks of any other election: campaigning, newspaper leaks and support groups.

The cardinals themselves have vowed silence on all matters related to the conclave, and have asked reporters to leave them in peace to contemplate their heavy task.

Nonetheless, television cameras track the cardinals’ daily pre-conclave meeting, and reporters occasionally throw them questions as they stride past _ which are routinely ignored.

Once the conclave begins Monday, the 115 prelates permitted to cast ballots will be restricted to the grounds of the Vatican city-state and will be cut off from all contact with outside influences. Televisions, telephones and mobile communications are removed.

Speculation about how they will vote filled the Italian and international press even before John Paul was buried. But on Wednesday, two Italian papers carried what appeared to be the first leaks from the cardinals’ inner circle.

Citing sources, Corriere della Sera, the highly regarded Milan daily, said at least 40 cardinals have voiced some backing for German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during the daily meetings.

Another newspaper, La Repubblica, a widely read Rome paper, put the number of possible Ratzinger backers at 50, without identifying a source for the estimate.

The newspapers also reported the blocs opposed to Ratzinger have not united around a single name, suggesting a series of ballots may be needed before the leading contenders emerge.

The reports could not be independently verified. But a staff member for a European cardinal, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, expressed serious doubts the cardinals are making such clear declarations at this stage.

Meanwhile, two young Belgians tried to inject a campaign flavor into the papal deliberations outside the Vatican in St. Peter’s Square, touting their countryman, Cardinal Godfried Danneels. They held aloft a banner reading ``Godfried for Pope,″ and distributed leaflets with his photograph.

``We want him for the new pope, the new papa, yes,″ said a man who identified himself only as Dave. ``That’s why we came from Belgium over here, to promote a little bit Godfried. Because he is a modern way of thinking and certainly because he want women in the church. It’s very important.″

Vatican police escorted the two men off the square.

The cardinals are not supposed to vote in geographic blocs, nor is it considered seemly to campaign openly. Ballots are cast in secret and burned, and no one ever knows exactly how the voting goes, though it’s widely believed a candidate’s country of origin plays a large role.

So many pilgrims from Latin America are outside the Vatican that they could almost be classified as a lobby group _ if only they could reach the electors. Whether in a soft Peruvian accent or a sharp Buenos Aires tone, the answer is the same: The next pope will be Latin American.

``I have no doubt. I expect a Latin American,″ said Patricia Lastiri. a 45-year-old Argentine working in the Italian city of Turin. ``Latin America needs a push, and a pope could provide it.″

Latin America now has 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, and is home to 21 cardinals eligible to vote _ although one is too ill to attend.

The Italian cardinals form the biggest group from a single country, with 20 in the conclave. Italians controlled the papacy for 455 years until the archbishop of Krakow broke their stranglehold and became John Paul II.

Lebanese Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, interviewed on RAI radio, was asked if he thought the cardinals might have the situation in the Middle East in mind when they vote.

``You know the cardinals can’t talk about the conclave,″ Sfeir said with a laugh. ``But we hope the Holy Spirit sends us a new pope who understands the world and the importance of the Middle East.″

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