Vatican-watcher: American pope "realistic" possibility

(CBS News) VATICAN CITY - The news alert system for the conclave was installed on the roof of the Sistine Chapel Saturday.

From the room decorated with Michelangelo's magnificent frescos, two stoves linked to a single pipe will convey the decisions of cardinals more accustomed to Twitter and email.

Black smoke signifies an inconclusive round of voting; white means a pope has been elected.

For the first time, respected Vatican reporters like Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa have Americans on their lists of papal contenders.

"I think that it is realistic, the possibility of an American pope," he said.

A pope from a superpower has generally been dismissed as more than the rest of the world could deal with, according to author, the Rev. Thomas Reese.

"I mean, many people in the Third World would simply conclude, 'Well the CIA must have fixed the election or Wall Street bought off the cardinals,'" said Reese. "That's not the kind of image that we want."

The Americans bolstered their image by pushing back against the Vatican's ingrained tendency to secrecy. Their daily briefings were so popular the College of Cardinals forced them to stop.

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It's considered bad taste to openly want to be in the papal race.

New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan used his radio show to dismiss the idea.

"I miss New York," he said. "I'm running out of socks."

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston hung his chances on his brown robes.

"I have worn this uniform for over 40 years," he said, "and I presume I will wear it till I will die because I don't expect to be elected pope."

The Americans are outsiders rather than front-runners, but the very fact that their names are in play is an indication that the church is looking hard at the need for new leadership.

  • Allen Pizzey

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