Cover Story: The September Pope

John Paul I's sudden death stuns and saddens the Christian world

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Paradoxically, their apparent unity of aim may lead to difficulties and frustrations, if only because Luciani no longer exists as a candidate. He was a compromise, to be sure, but a happy one, whose graces and goodness had hitherto shone only in a small corner of a great church. Asks Archbishop Stanislaus Lokuang of Taipei with evident skepticism: "Will it be possible to find a man with the same qualities?" Though Luciani once described himself as a "wren" among bishops, his papacy revealed him as a rather rarer bird. His reputation for doctrinal conservatism made him acceptable to the traditionalists who voted on the first ballot for Genoa's ultraconservative Giuseppe Cardinal Siri. His firm stand against Italian Communists won him the backing of the pro-Christian Democrat forces, led by Florence's powerful Giovanni Cardinal Benelli. His roots among and love for the poor helped draw him votes from Third World Cardinals who distrust Europe. Such a winning combination could prove difficult to find so soon again.

John Paul's unexpected death may also weigh in the conclave's choice. The health of a potential candidate will surely become a much more serious consideration. Professor Enrique Miret Magdalena of Madrid's University Institute of Theology has suggested that papal candidates should have a complete medical checkup, "just as you would do with someone considered for an important job in secular life." John Paul's fate may change attitudes toward the ages of papabili as well. Hitherto there has been an age "window" for candidates, ranging from the early 60s to the mid-70s, mainly because Cardinals feared having a Pope in office for more than ten or 15 years. "Maybe one of the lessons of this is that age shouldn't count," suggests Monsignor John Grant, editor of the Boston Pilot. Asks St. Louis Historian Hughes: "Where else but in the Catholic Church is a man 56 years of age considered too young for a job?"

If the Cardinals in conclave again try to find their compassionate shepherd from within the ranks of Italian pastors, they will have their work cut out for them. The Patriarchate of Venice, left open by Pope John Paul, stands empty. Giovanni Cardinal Colombo, Arch bishop of Milan, will be 76 in December. The important Arch diocese of Turin is governed by a Franciscan friar noted for his spirituality, Anastasio Ballestrero, 66 this week. But Ballestrero, though eligible to be elected Pope, is an unlikely candidate because he is not yet a Cardinal. Antonio Cardinal Poma of Bologna, 68, is a kindly, humble man, a stern foe of any detente with Italian Communism. He is also head of Italy's national bishops' conference — but suffers from erysipelas ("St. Anthony's fire"), a painful, recurrent skin disease. The same affliction troubles Ugo Cardinal Poletti, 64, the Pope's Vicar for Rome and thus the capital's real bishop, a prelate who has shown a vigorous concern for the city's poor.

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