(Time.com - Elizabeth Franz)
While few Vatican officials dare speak of a successor to the ailing John Paul II, several potential candidates have emerged. Having appointed all but 16 of the 123 members of the College of Cardinals, John Paul II has almost guaranteed that his successor will share his conservative philosophy. Some Vatican observers, however, predict the election of a candidate with more progressive views in order to mend the schism between liberal and orthodox Catholics.
Nationality may be another important consideration in the papal succession. The Polish John Paul II broke the Italians' near-500-year lock on the papacy, and growing Catholic populations in the Third World may focus attention beyond not only Italy but even Europe.
The consensus among speculators is that there is no likely American candidate, and an older cardinal -- who would serve a shorter term than John Paul's -- appears to be a probable choice. Here's a look at some of the possible candidates, from the leading contenders to the long shots:
Camillo Ruini Age: 68 Ruini is vicar general of the Rome diocese and president of the Italian Episcopal Conference. Appointed cardinal in 1991, he is a conservative who may still be able to appease liberal factions.
Dionigi Tettamanzi Age: 65 The archbishop of Genoa is highly favored in Italy. Elevated to cardinal in 1998, Tettamanzi is another relatively new member of the Sacred College. He is regarded as a moderate who may be able to mediate between liberals and conservatives.
Francis Arinze Age: 66 The Nigerian cardinal, a leading church figure in Africa, is a close friend of the pope's and has performed a crucial role in improving the Vatican's dialogue with Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu groups. His conservative theological orientation fits in well with the current Vatican climate. Pio
Laghi Age: 76 Born in Forli, Italy, Laghi is prefect of the Congregation for Education in Rome. He is an experienced diplomat and was an apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine. Laghi is noted for his gentleness and compassion, though his lack of experience as a pastor may hurt his odds.
Christoph Schoenborn Age: 54 The archbishop of Vienna and a highly respected theologian, Schoenborn was appointed to the College of Cardinals in 1998. Born in Czechoslovakia, he moved with his family to Austria while he was still young. Schoenborn was charged by the pope with the task of preparing the church's new catechism, but his chances may be hampered by his relative youth.
Bernardin Gantin Age: 77 A close friend of the pope's, Gantin is another Vatican insider. He is prefect for the Congregation of Bishops and dean of the College of Cardinals. He was born in Benin, Africa, and, like Arinze, may find his chances diminished by his non-European origin.
Joseph Ratzinger Age: 72 The vice-dean of the College of Cardinals is German-born and was once archbishop of Munich. Known as "the Panzer Cardinal," the conservative Ratzinger is powerful in the Vatican but may be too close to the pope for the cardinals' taste.
Carlo Maria Martini Age: 72 Archbishop of Milan since 1979, Martini is more liberal than John Paul II on issues such as contraception and the role of women in the church. His odds for the papacy are lengthened by his membership in the elitist Jesuit order, which has been viewed with longstanding mistrust by the greater church.
Roger Etchegaray Age: 76 A Vatican insider, Etchegaray serves as president of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace. He is from Bayonne, France, and served as archbishop of Marseilles for 15 years.
Jean-Marie Lustiger Age: 72 Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger was born of a Polish Jewish family in France. After his parents were deported during the Nazi occupation, he lived with a Christian family in Orléans and converted to Catholicism at the age of 13. He has been criticized by Israeli rabbis and may be a long shot if the cardinals decide his nomination would anger the Jewish community.