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We are now only days away from the beginning of the conclave that will elect the successor to John Paul II. David Willey of The Telegraph (UK) writes about the political side of the process in Behind the elaborate protocol, a naked power struggle begins. He relates the history of secret deals made in decades past between the princes of the church who take an oath to neither collaborate nor politic - nor talk about the secret process afterwards. Obviously, some violated this oath or Willey would not be able to write about it!

This is the first conclave that will meet in luxurious surroundings, thanks to a facility that rivals a 4-star hotel, which John Paul II had constructed for their use. Even so, they will be cut off from the outside world, vowing secrecy, as will every member of the large staff that attends to their needs. Willey tells an amusing anecdote.

For the cardinals, it is one of Pope John Paul's most appreciated initiatives, modern facilities in each room or suite including private baths, air-conditioning and television, although it is expected that this will be turned off during the conclave. They will appreciate the change from the spartan conditions of previous conclaves when temporary bedroom partitions and monastic cells were set up in frescoed halls and there was an acute shortage of bathrooms. The Renaissance Pope Pius II, the only pope in history who also fancied himself as a journalist, wrote in his diary: "a great quantity of cardinals used to meet in the latrines, and there, as in a place that was conveniently secret and secluded, agreed that a certain William should be elected pope and promised their vote in writing and with an oath. William immediately began to promise jobs to his friends... the place was worthy of such an election. Where better than a latrine could you draw up unusual contracts of this sort?"

Willey gives his assessment of the breakdown of the College of Cardinals as it goes to work on April 18th. 58 cardinals are Europeans, which gives them a powerful voting block. They all owe their allegiance to Cardinal Ratzinger, whom many believe has the inside track. Even though it is expressly forbidden in Catholic law for a pope to name his successor, John Paul II made it evident that the German cardinal was one of his favorites. Some say the favorite, but John Paul II also gave a strong vote of support to the Italian Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi by naming him as cardinal of Milan in 2002.

But, Willey observes, the American Cardinals, although they number only 11 of the 117 who will vote for the new pope, wield a great deal of clout, because they represent the areas that contribute the most income to the Catholic Church. Willey believe that if they favor Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, their influence would be difficult to override.

Personally, I have my eye on a name that no one seems to be focused upon - Austrian Cardinal Christoph Sch