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The pope’s succession planning

Pope John Paul has appointed 31 new cardinals, months earlier than expected. As most of them will have a vote on choosing his successor, some suspect that the ailing pontiff is trying to ensure that the next leader of the Catholic church will be in his conservative image.

In the past few years, the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics have become increasingly worried about the pope’s fading health: the 83-year-old has suffered from Parkinson’s disease for the past decade and arthritis makes him unsteady on his feet. These worries have intensified over the past few weeks. On a recent visit to Slovakia, the pontiff needed help to read a speech. And last week one of his Wednesday audiences was cancelled due to a mysterious intestinal illness. Though described by the Vatican as “mild”?, some observers have speculated that the pope may be suffering from cancer. Speculation that the pope’s condition is graver than has been officially admitted was heightened over the weekend when he brought forward the appointment of 31 cardinals (though one has yet to be named), due to have been announced in January. Twenty-six of these appointees are under 80 years old, and thus young enough to vote for a new pope under the Vatican’s laws, bringing the electorate to 135 so far. Of these, all but five have been appointed during the current pope’s near-25-year reign. Most are also traditionalists. But another conservative pontiff could further alienate millions of Catholics who feel that the church is increasingly irrelevant to their daily lives.

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