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Speculation begins on successor to Benedict

“He who goes into the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal.”

Not since Gregory XII resigned as Pope in 1415 to end a schism between competitors for the office, has the Roman Catholic leader voluntarily ended his tenure on the throne of St. Peter. But, that is just what Benedict XVI did Monday morning: announcing that on Feb. 28, he would resign as pope, and, in the process, astonishing the world.

Whoever becomes pope is always of great interest to the secular world powers. The international contacts of the Vatican as well as the influence of the pope among practicing Catholics, make who holds the position as important to the U.S. as who holds power in Moscow, Beijing, or any Western European capital. Pope John Paul II was considered as much a player in the downfall of the old Soviet Union as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Pope Pius XII was an important fixture in thwarting the Axis powers during World War II.

Under church rules, the 120 cardinals under the age of 80 will meet in a secluded conclave in the Vatican next month and vote until a pope is elected. The worldâ??s press will gather outside the Sistine Chapel, waiting for the white smoke from its chimney that signals a candidate has won a majority of the cardinals and â??we have a Pope.â?

But, where Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of John Paulâ??s closest associates and secured the papacy on the third ballot of the conclave in 2005, there is no â??heir apparentâ? to Benedict. All of the voting cardinals have been named by Benedict or John Paul and most are considered conservative and traditionalist in the mold of the outgoing pope: strongly in favor of priestly celibacy, supportive and encouraging of traditional reforms to the Mass, and a heightened and renewed evangelization.

U.S. cardinals in particular are considered more conservative than they were before Benedict assumed his throne. Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Raymond Burke (formerly of St. Louis and now at the Vatican’s Supreme Court) are two noted orthodox prelates who will be selecting Benedictâ??s successor.

Speculation is rampant as to why the former Josef Cardinal Ratzinger would resign the papacy he has held since he succeeded John Paul II in 2005. Some Vatican-watchers say it is his age (85) and signs of failing health. Others say that a string of scandalsâ??including the leaking of inside information by the popeâ??s own butlerâ??had taken their toll on the first German to lead the Roman Catholic Church in 600 years. One conservative possibility is 68-year-old Christoph Cardinal Schönburn of Vienna, Austria, who is close to Benedict.

As to who will be the next pope and what nationality he will be, no one can say at this point. In 1921, the Vaticanâ??s Secretary of State Merry Del Val was considered a shoo-in for the papacy, but the cardinals instead chose Achille Ratti, librarian and diplomat, who became Pope Pius XI. This conclave spawned a phrase that stands to this day as a warning about betting on the next pontiff: â??He who goes into the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal.â?

Written By

John Gizzi has come to be known as â??the man who knows everyone in Washingtonâ? and, indeed, many of those who hold elected positions and in party leadership roles throughout the United States. With his daily access to the White House as a correspondent, Mr. Gizzi offers readers the inside scoop on whatâ??s going on in the nationâ??s capital. He is the author of a number of popular Human Events features, such as â??Gizzi on Politicsâ? and spotlights of key political races around the country. Gizzi also is the host of â??Gizziâ??s America,â? video interviews that appear on Gizzi got his start at Human Events in 1979 after graduating from Fairfield University in Connecticut and then working for the Travis County (Tex.) Tax Assessor. He has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV shows, including Fox News Channel, C-SPAN, America's Voice,The Jim Bohannon Show, Fox 5, WUSA 9, America's Radio News Network and is also a frequent contributor to the BBC -- and has appeared on France24 TV and German Radio. He is a past president of the Georgetown Kiwanis Club, past member of the St. Matthew's Cathedral's Parish Council, and secretary of the West End Friends of the Library. He is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence and was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002. John Gizzi is also a credentialed correspondent at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He has questioned two IMF managing directors, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Christine LaGarde, and has become friends with international correspondents worldwide. Johnâ??s email is JGizzi@EaglePub.Com