Story transcripts

II Papa

Sunday, April 10, 2005
Reporter: Peter Overton
Producer: Lincoln Howes

Peter Overton reports from Rome, where millions of the Catholic faithful have arrived for the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

And for the most part they're not expected to leave until a decision is reached about the next pope.

As Peter reports, there's no shortage of candidates nor a shortage of opinions as to who should be the man to lead a billion believers in the 21st century.


PETER OVERTON: For the last three days, Rome and the Vatican have been the centre of the world. If you needed any evidence of Pope John Paul II's remarkable impact, you only had to be here in this ancient place at this moment in history, when millions were united in faith by the life and death of one man.

WOMAN: The Pope is a whole life for us so we arrived here for him.

PETER OVERTON: Millions of people have gathered here, but what I've found so interesting is that for such a big crowd it's so quiet. The mood is not sombre, it's respectful, and amongst all these people, I think the thing that I've taken away most from the funeral is that they're so young.

WOMAN: We loved him very much — everyone from Poland — and when I think that he died, I can't believe it. It's very hard for me. But that's true, he had to go. He was very tired, he was very sick.

PETER OVERTON: How old are you?

WOMAN: I'm 20.

PETER OVERTON: What did he mean to you?

YOUNG MAN: He changed my life.

PETER OVERTON: John Paul II inspired that kind of devotion, but the feeling here at the Vatican was not simply the passing of a great leader, but the end of an era.

FATHER JULIAN WELLSPRING: I think there's little doubt that this is one of the greatest pontificates of all time.

PETER OVERTON: Father Julian Wellspring is an Australian priest based in Rome who has witnessed the power of this pope. But like the rest of the world, he's now focused on the fascinating process of finding a successor. Where do the cardinals go from here?

FATHER JULIAN WELLSPRING: The cardinals will be locked away in Vatican City, they're resident in the Doma Santa Marta. They'll go to the Sistine Chapel where they'll actually do the voting. Of course both buildings have been swept for electronic devices, there will be no listening devices, but also they can't make contact with the rest of the world. The phones have been disconnected; the faxes have been turned off; they won't be able to take in their mobile phones, so it's a complete retreat for them.

PETER OVERTON: So until they decide who the next pope is, there's no contact with anyone?

FATHER JULIAN WELLSPRING: Absolutely not. If there was a major event to happen in the world, the cardinals wouldn't know about it.

PETER OVERTON: The conclave of cardinals — 117 of them — will spend as long as it takes, cut off from the world, to reach that all-important decision. Beneath Michelangelo's masterpiece, The Last Judgment, they'll vote four times a day — twice in the morning and twice at night. And each time, their votes will be burned afterwards.

FATHER JULIAN WELLSPRING: If there's no pope elected, the ballots will be taken, they'll be burned, a chemical will be added and there will be black smoke come out of the Sistine Chapel roof. If on the other hand, there has been a pope elected, the ballots will be taken and a chemical will be added to ensure that there's white smoke

PETER OVERTON: And that's the signal we have a new pope?

FATHER JULIAN WELLSPRING: That's the signal we've got a new pope. But this time, just to make absolutely certain — because in the past, they haven't been sure — they're going to toll the bells of St Peter.

PETER OVERTON: And there's no shortage of candidates or contenders, no shortage of opinions on who should be the next pope — the man to lead a billion believers in the 21st century. Now when the cardinals sit down to decide, they're supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. But you'll find in this preview from Morley Safer, that there are also some very earthly considerations.

FATHER RICHARD McBRIEN: It's a political event and anyone who thinks that it's not doesn't know how it's done.

MORLEY SAFER: Father Richard McBrien, the eminent Notre Dame historian and theologian, is the author of Lives of the Popes.

FATHER RICHARD McBRIEN: There's nothing wrong with politics because all politics is is fashioning and refashioning coalitions. You can't even suggest that you might be interested.

FATHER TOM REESE: Oh, no, no. No campaign buttons, no posters.

MORLEY SAFER: Father Tom Reese is a Catholic educator and author of Inside the Vatican.

FATHER TOM REESE: What happens is someone has to be, kind of, your campaign manager, who goes around and talks to the other cardinals and tells them how good you are.

MORLEY SAFER: Habemus Papam — we have a pope. The choice of Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow back in 1978, was a disappointment to many in Italy where for so long, the papacy seemed almost a birthright. One hears that, above all, the Italians want that office back.

FATHER TOM REESE: Oh, I think that's clear. But they're nothing like they were in the early 20th century or the 19th century where they were … 80 percent or more of the college of cardinals had a hammer lock on the papacy.

MORLEY SAFER: A hammer lock that lasted four centuries. By electing a non-Italian, the cardinals internationalised the papacy. Now for the first time in modern history, there's talk of a pope from Africa. Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria has received a lot of attention over the years.

CARDINAL FRANCIS ARINZE: And do introduce yourself briefly and take the Holy Father's letter.

MORLEY SAFER: Arinze, whose father was a tribal chief, accompanied John Paul II on his trip to Nigeria in 1998. Would it lose some of those Catholics who might already be tottering anyway?

FATHER TOM REESE: Well, I mean if somebody is going to leave the Church because we have a black pope, in my opinion, they should have left the Church years ago.

MORLEY SAFER: In the papal stakes, Reese says don't be surprised if the next pope comes from the continent where the Church has the largest flock.

FATHER TOM REESE: Latin America is the most Catholic continent in the world and many people say, you know, isn't it their turn? There's a cardinal from Honduras, for example, or Argentina, even the cardinal from Mexico City. There's one from Brazil — Cardinal Hummes has been mentioned also.

MORLEY SAFER: It's been a fairly rough couple of years for the Church given the sexual abuse scandals. Are those scandals going to have an effect on who is elected as pope?

FATHER TOM REESE: Well, certainly, you know, among the American bishops, and I would say the Irish bishops and some others where the scandal has been significant, they're going to want someone who understands this problem. You know, the last thing we need is a pope who is going to get up and say, "This is all a creation of the media, it's not a real problem." No.

MORLEY SAFER: Since John Paul II appointed virtually all of the cardinals, it's assumed an equally doctrinaired successor will be elected. But Father McBrien says not necessarily.

FATHER RICHARD McBRIEN: When they get into the conclave and the likelihood is that most of them will be motivated by the good of the Church and not by their own self-interest or their interests in their friends, they're going to say, "Look, he was a great pope, but we need a different style now."

MORLEY SAFER: What you're saying is that they become their own man.

FATHER RICHARD McBRIEN: Absolutely. John XXIII, when he was elected — this overweight, cholesterol-ridden, wonderful, loving man from Venice, the patriarch of Venice — when he was elected he was almost 78, he was going to be a transitional pope, he was going to be safe. Well, he turned the Church on its head in less than five years and we had the second Vatican council and a whole new Catholic Church. So you really … the cardinals elect somebody, but they really cannot tell for sure how he's going to turn out.

MORLEY SAFER: This time, McBrien is betting on an Italian, someone who will not rock the boat. The conclave, he says, will be looking for an older man, one whose pontificate will be both short and uneventful.

FATHER RICHARD McBRIEN: They want to catch their breath after this pope. He's been like a gush of wind, almost a tornado, in terms of papal history. And they want to survey the landscape and see what's left standing and what options they may have. By electing a young man they would lock themselves in yet again, so I would be looking for an Italian who is in his 70s that may be a person with a term of about seven or eight years.

FATHER TOM REESE: I think there will be a lot of discussion in the conclave about the possibility of a pope resigning. You know, because modern medicine has made it possible for the body to continue to live long after the mind is capable of functioning and working. I think the Church has to face this.

MORLEY SAFER: While the pope is the last absolute monarch on earth, John Paul II succeeded in becoming the symbol of freedom around the world, but he held fast on doctrine — birth control, celibacy and women priests. But Father McBrien believes these are relatively minor issues.

FATHER RICHARD McBRIEN: Look, women are going to be ordained, that's the way history is moving. I mean, it's going to be a non-issue pretty soon. Celibacy will go, because we're going to run out of priests if we don't change that. Those are really small issues. The real big issue is, you know, how do you, how do you make a world which sees net worth and the gathering of creature comforts and power and possessions as kind of a norm of happiness? How do you get a world like that to say, that fellow with the black face, that gay over there, that homeless person, these are your brothers and sisters, we're all one human family? Birth control, ordination of women, celibacy, they are fly specks on the windowpane compared with that kind of challenge that a new pope will have. The trick is to find someone who will have as much of an image of being — no-one will have to guess, is the Pope Catholic? But at the same time, a pope who will carry on, I think, the prophetic vision of John Paul II in advocating for the rights of the poor, the powerless, the immigrant, the marginalised, the sick — he was extraordinary in that regard.

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