Support for German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger appears to be building ahead of the conclave to select a new pope, Italian newspapers reported Wednesday.
Corriere della Sera, citing anonymous sources, said at least 40 cardinals have voiced some backing for the conservative Ratzinger during daily meetings before the conclave opens Monday with an expected 115 cardinals.
Another newspaper, La Repubblica, put the number of possible Ratzinger backers at 50, without identifying a source for the estimate.
The reports could not be independently verified. The cardinals have agreed not to talk to the media until after the conclave, the Vatican said. The pre-conclave meetings are held in private.
Shy of majority
But the tally of votes suggested for Ratzinger would still be shy the number needed to be elected pope at the conclave: a two-thirds majority, or 77 votes.
Ratzinger, who leads a powerful Vatican office that oversees and enforces church doctrine, has been mentioned as a possible contender because of his close ties to Pope John Paul II. But Ratzinger will turn 78 on Saturday, which has led to speculation he could face challenges from cardinals who want a younger pontiff.
The newspapers also reported that the blocs opposed to Ratzinger have not united around a single name — suggesting a series of ballots may be needed before the leading contenders emerge. In October 1978, the College of Cardinals voted eight times over three days before selecting the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
The Italian cardinals, the biggest national group with 20 in the conclave, could favor Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, 71, the archbishop of Milan and a frequently mentioned papal prospect.
But hopes among Latin American Catholics run high that their region could claim the papacy for the first time. Leading candidates appear to include Cardinal Claudo Hummes, 70, of Brazil and Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, 62, of Honduras.