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by Ray Fleming

A S the Pope's helicopter circled over St Peter's Square and disappeared into the distance yesterday speculation intensified about the choice of his successor by the Church's 117 Cardinals later this month. Earlier the Pope had met the Cardinals already in Rome and made two interesting statements.

One was an assurance of his “unconditional reverence and obedience to his successor” and the other a longer analogical observation that “The College of Cardinals work like an orchestra where diversity of expression of the Universal Church always works toward a higher and harmonious agreement.” The first of those two passages seems designed to show that the Pope will not be second-guessing his successor's policies from his retirement quarters in the Vatican. But the second, which not all orchestral conductors would agree with, could be interpreted as a warning that there should be no one playing out of tune in the main body of the Cardinal's orchestra.

It is difficult to predict whether the combined effect of the almost unique resignation of the Pope, followed by the distinctly unusual outcome of the surrounding Italian election, will seep into the discussions of the Cardinals about what changes are needed and who might be able to carry them out in an acceptable way to the global Church community.

Change is essential if the Catholic Church is to retain its influence for good in the world.