HANDICAPPING THE VATICAN….Since virtually every voting member of the College of Cardinals has been appointed by John Paul II, and since these cardinals are mostly a pretty conservative bunch, the next pope is likely to be a conservative too, isn’t he? Not so fast, says John Allen in an article written three years ago for the Washington Monthly:

Like many bits of political conventional wisdom, this idea is compelling, rational, logical…and most probably wrong. History suggests that colleges of cardinals appointed by one pope do not elect a carbon copy as his successor. In fact, the race is wide open, and there are deep-seated political and bureaucratic reasons to expect the next Successor of St. Peter to be a moderate.

….At the end of a long papacy, there is always a sense of unfinished business, which the pope either couldn’t or wouldn’t address. Even cardinals who love the present pope tend to think that his approach has had a long time to work, and welcome fresh ideas. The Italians, as they always do, have a better phrase to capture this dynamic: “You always follow a fat pope with a thin one.”

The successor to John Paul II is, therefore, almost certain to be a different kind of man. Indeed, it is quite possible that the next pope will be more moderate on theological issues, and less authoritarian in his style of governance. The right question to ask is this: What is this pontificate’s unfinished business? Where might the cardinals begin thinking about what kind of change would be most desirable under a new pope?

Read the whole thing to get a good idea of the internal dynamics that are likely to affect the election of the next pope. For a more detailed look, head over to Slate, where Steven Waldman runs down the most likely candidates.

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