According to Italian media, American and German cardinals have lined up against a possible papacy of Joseph Ratzinger. The conservative cardinal, in charge of defending church doctrine, is considered a frontrunner.
Ratzinger has the blessing of some cardinals, but not all
La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera, both respected Italian dailies with close contacts with the Vatican, say two powerful German cardinals, Karl Lehmann of Mainz and Walter Kasper, who is based in Rome, have lined up against their fellow German who has been the Catholic Church's controversial doctrinal watchdog.
Both Lehmann and Kasper have had public differences with Ratzinger in the past.
American cardinals have also expressed reservations about a possible Ratzinger pontificate, according to La Repubblica. The paper reported that American and German cardinals are worried about Ratzinger's apparent lack of interest in matters of administration.
German cardinals also have taken issue with Ratzinger's opposition to allowing lay theologians to take a leading roll in parishes that lack priests, a serious problem in Germany. The paper also said the Ratzinger, the one-time archbishop of Munich, had failed to address the issue of not allowing Catholics who had divorced and remarried to receive communion.
Martini - the moderates' man
The Milan-based Corriere della Sera reported that opponents to Ratzinger were lining up behind 78-year-old Carlo Maria Martini, who was a favorite of moderates until he resigned as Milan's archbishop in 2002. Martini, a leading advocate of church reform, serves as a counterweight to the traditionalist Ratzinger.
Carlo Maria Martini
Martini, however, is not in good health and has indicated he does not want the church's top job. But a strong showing for him in the first round of voting is seen as having primarily symbolic value that could show the strength of moderate cardinals and rally support behind a candidate more to their liking.
Vatican watchers say the first voting rounds are often considered formalities, which gauge the strengths of various camps. A voting conclave can last for several days and often produces surprising results, as did the one in 1978 which elected Poland's Karol Wojtyla.
However, since many of the bishops in the conclave were appointed by John Paul II, himself a conservative, the traditionalist camp is strong. Italian newspapers reported that between 40 and 50 cardinals had signalled their support for Ratzinger in private meetings this week.
That number, though, is short of the two-thirds majority, 77 out of 115 votes, needed to win. Vatican watchers say many of the cardinals who will go into the conclave on Monday are still undecided.
"Ratzinger is looking strong, but it's still far from clear who will emerge and how the voting will go," one church official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters.
Cardinal Ratzinger, who turns 78 on Saturday, published a book on Wednesday in Germany which argues that Europe must retain its Christian heritage. It is not clear what kind of effect the book will have on the election, although open campaigning for the papacy is generally frowned upon.
Joseph Ratzinger, as Catholic Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
In the book, he reiterated his conservative views, criticizing the collapse of traditional families and attacking the drive toward gay marriage, saying it was a trend in which "the entire moral history of mankind is being left behind."
He said Europe had become "empty inside" and was "dependent on transplants," referring to the continent's low birth rate and the need for immigrant labor. Although some questioned the timing of the book's publication, it does not appear to have broken the agreement among cardinals not to talk to the media during the pre-conclave period since the book was likely written before the death of John Paul II.