VATICAN CITY – Not only is it considered unseemly to speculate about who the next pope might be, it is also against Vatican law.

But that hasn’t stopped an online Irish bookmaker from taking bets on likely candidates.

According to odds offered by Dublin-based Paddypower.com, the clear favorite at 2-1 is Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, whose appointment two years ago as archbishop of Milan was seen as an endorsement of his candidacy by Pope John Paul II. Several previous popes came from the Milan archdiocese, Italy’s largest.

He is closely followed by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Brazilian archbishop of Sao Paulo, and Nigeria’s Francis Arinze, who at 3-1 lead the rest of the pack of candidates tipped to succeed history’s third-longest-serving pope.

After that, the field widens to include 30 “papabile,” the Italian word used to describe papal candidates, which roughly translates as “popeable.”

Evidently, betting on the papacy isn’t new. Pope Gregory XIV made it an excommunicable offense in 1591, suggesting it has been going on for at least a few centuries.

Paddy Power, spokesman for Paddy Power and the son of the company’s founder, said he didn’t know about the law and that no disrespect was intended.

“It’s a bit of fun,” he said from Dublin, where the bookmaker also runs a chain of Irish betting outlets.

“The way we think about it is, it’s a bit like betting on who will be the next manager of the Irish soccer team, except that it’s who next will manage the church,” he said.

“It would be in bad taste if we bet directly on his health. But this is something that will happen. There will be a new pope, we just don’t know when. We like to take bets on anything in the public eye.”

Most recently, Paddy Power correctly called the U.S. election; the site had President Bush as the 4-7 favorite at least a month before Election Day.

The question of who will fill the shoes of Pope John Paul II is far trickier, however. There are 123 cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave that will elect his successor, and all also are potential candidates. In theory, anyone can be pope, though in practice cardinals always choose one of their own.

Campaigning is frowned upon even after the death of a pope, and mere discussion of the subject by Vatican officials while the reigning pope is alive is forbidden.

Pope John Paul II, though 84 and weakened by Parkinson’s disease, still has a busy schedule of audiences and masses, addresses pilgrims in multiple languages, remains active in papal affairs and has outlasted several former contenders.

Favorites traditionally fare badly, hence the Vatican saying: “He who goes into the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal.”

“There are no front-runners,” said Father Thomas Reese, editor of the Catholic magazine America. “Picking names is a fool’s game. Picking qualities and types is all you can do.”

The names on the Paddy Power list nonetheless provide a rough, if unscientific, guide to who’s in and who’s out in the stakes for the papacy, a subject of intense debate among Vatican watchers.

Tettamanzi is on most Vatican watchers’ top 10 list, said John Allen, the National Catholic Reporter’s Vatican correspondent. But if the next pope is to be Italian, he would rate higher the prospects of Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Venice, given odds of 12-1 by Paddy Power. “He’s more charismatic and speaks several languages,” Allen said.

Marco Politi, the veteran Vatican watcher at La Repubblica newspaper, leans toward candidates from the developing world, home to more than half the world’s Catholics. A third live in Latin America, favoring the chances the next pope will come from that region.

He also would not rule out an Asian pope, such as Ivan Dias, archbishop of Bombay, who isn’t on the Paddy Power list.

However, fewer than 40 percent of cardinals eligible to vote come from developing countries, while Europeans account for half, giving their candidates a likely edge.

Keith Pecklers, a professor at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, includes Godfried Danneels (20-1 on Paddy Power), a Belgian reformist, and Germany’s Walter Kasper, who isn’t ranked by Paddy Power, on his list of possibilities.

There’s also a view that the next pope will need to attend to bureaucratic affairs neglected by the globe-trotting incumbent, he said. That would tend to favor an Italian who could navigate the Vatican bureaucracy. Karol Wojtyla was the first non-Italian Pope in 400 years, and Italy’s cardinals, the biggest voting bloc, may lobby to bring the papacy back home.

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Arinze, who, if elected, would become the first black pope, has long been a Paddy Power favorite, but Vatican experts say they don’t rate his chances so highly because he is seen as too close to the Vatican bureaucracy.

The next pope must also be neither too young nor too old. Some think the current papacy, entering its 27th year, has lasted too long.

Age may work against other favorites such as Austria’s Christoph von Schoenborn (12-1), who at 59 is just a year older than Wojtyla was when he became pope.

Reese won’t name names, but he has come up with a list of qualities cardinals will be looking for. He will be age 62 to 72; speak English, Italian and probably several other languages; be well-traveled and cosmopolitan, and be capable of balancing the demands of traditionalists with the concerns of liberals.

These criteria appear to rule out many leading contenders, such as Cuba’s Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, a Paddy Power favorite at 11-2, La Repubblica’s Politi said. At 68, he is the right age, but he has been unable to travel outside Cuba and may not have a sufficiently global outlook to satisfy the job’s demands, which have grown significantly under the current papacy.

“It’s hard to think of any person who could fill the space left by John Paul II, who is such a huge, charismatic personality,” Politi said.

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Paddy Power, the spokesman, claims no insights into candidates’ chances. He suspects the odds are being driven mainly by patriotism; an Australian cardinal’s odds dramatically improved after a local radio station launched a campaign encouraging listeners to place bets on him. Earlier this year, an English bishop denounced Paddy Power as “distasteful,” prompting a flurry of bets that tended to favor two British cardinals.

About $19,000 has been wagered so far, mostly in amounts of about $100, Power said. A few bets have come from Rome, though none from anyone giving a Vatican address.

“There hasn’t been any serious money from anyone in the know,” he said. “If there was, we’d really sit up and take notice.”



(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune.

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AP-NY-11-07-04 0602EST



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