The Pope's poor health has inspired a church-load of speculation on his
likely successor, writes Nick Galvin.
With the ageing Pope John Paul II celebrating 25 years in the top job this
month, runners and riders are already jockeying for position in the Who'll Be
The Next Pope Stakes.
But don't put your shirt on Sydney's own brand-new cardinal George Pell
becoming the next Catholic boss.
In fact, Pell doesn't even feature in the field offered by "Ireland's Biggest
Paddy Power (www.paddypower.com, click
on "Novelties"). Front runner at an almost unbackable 2-1 is Cardinal Dionigi
But George shouldn't be too offended - maybe after the shock election of a
Pole 25 years ago, the world's Catholics are just not ready for the prospect of
an Aussie pontiff wheeling his barbie on to the balcony at St Peter's.
But we get ahead of ourselves. The present occupant of the Vatican is still
very much alive, if not all that well, at a venerable 82, even if CNN jumped the
gun somewhat a couple of years ago when they unwittingly published John Paul
II's obituary on the internet (www
For the lowdown on the remarkable life and times of the Pope, take a look at
the enormously impressive Vatican site (www
Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Kracow, Poland, in 1920, he worked in quarries
and a chemical factory in his pre-papal life, developing a life-long hatred of
communism in the process.
He was ordained a priest in 1946, becoming Bishop of Kracow in 1964 and a
cardinal in 1967. From there on it was a rocket ride to
At the Vatican site you'll also find a comprehensive collection of the Pope's
pronouncements in the form of 14 encyclicals, 13 apostolic exhortations, 11
apostolic constitutions and 42 apostolic letters, each espousing the resolute
conservatism that either encourages or outrages, depending on your point of
CNN's special on John Paul II (www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/1999/pope) provides a
fuller and, perhaps, more objective
account of the pontiff's life than that from the Vatican press office.
A comprehensive photo-essay puts a face to the man said to be the world's
There's also an essay entitled, "Who's Waiting in the Wings", sizing up
likely successors (sorry, George).
Over at the Time site
(www.time.com/time/time100/leaders/profile/popejohn.html) is a beautifully
turned piece from American Conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jnr, who
dubs the Pope: "The most tireless moral voice of a secular age - he reminded
humankind of the worth of individuals in the modern world."
However, even Buckley's praise can't alter the fact that the Pope only ranked
seventh in Time's "Person of the Century" poll (www
However, when you consider the list is headed by none other than Elvis Aaron
Presley, maybe that says more about the voters than the nominees. There are two
major articles of faith surrounding the papacy, the first of which is that the
present Pope is the latest in a line stretching back to St Peter. And if you
find that hard to swallow, check the list at the Catholic Encyclopedia (www
/cathen/12272b.htm), where you'll find all 265 - count 'em.
The other big (to non-Catholics at least) papal quirk is the doctrine of
Basically, if you buy into this one, the Pope is always right (and in that
respect he's no different from many other fathers).
However, if you think you can make a quick call to the Vatican and get the
winner of the second race at Randwick, you're going
to be disappointed. Catholic Answers
(www.catholic.com/library/papal_infallibility.asp) has an exhaustive (and
exhausting) definition of what infallibility is and isn't.
Not that any of that is likely to persuade that old funster Ian Paisley to
change his mind about the papacy, either in this life or the next.
The Reverend Paisley is leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and, er,
doesn't have a lot of time for popes or Catholics in general. See
www.ianpaisley.org/antichrist.asp for his foaming exposition on why the Pope is
While paying a visit to Bigotry Central, don't miss the remarkable guestbook
And if you were perchance stuck for what to send Ian for Christmas, be sure
to consider Stupid.com's beautifully crafted pope on a rope gift
He could use it to wash out his mouth.