The collegiality issue "is felt everywhere," Silvestrini said. "We must encourage dialogue, collegiality in confronting problems." John Paul talked a lot about it but the question was "always put off for the future," he said.
But Cardinal Francis Eugene George of Chicago said he was puzzled by claims of excessive Vatican influence. "I have to say that I have been a bishop since September of 1990 and I've never received a directive saying, 'Do this,' " George said. "So I don't know who's getting all these directives. . . . I think a lot of the objections come from people simply being uncomfortable following the discipline of the faith."
Over the past few months, experts on the Catholic church have speculated that the next pope will have strong linguistic skills. The Polish pope wowed audiences in St. Peter's Square and the world over with his command of at least eight languages. On his more than 100 trips abroad, he frequently gave homilies in the local tongue.
Italian is one language the new pope will likely have mastered; it is spoken in the Vatican halls. English, as the global lingua franca, is another. French is spoken in a key area of Catholic evangelization, Africa. Spanish is the home language to the most populous group of Roman Catholics, in Spain and Latin America.
The pope is also the bishop of Rome, George said, "and you can't have a bishop of Rome who doesn't speak Italian. He couldn't preach to his own people."
The preferred age of a new pope has been discussed discreetly in part because of predictions that many cardinals will want the next papacy to be shorter than John Paul's. John Paul was 58 years old when he was elected in 1978. His relative youth was widely regarded as a plus, because his predecessor, John Paul I, died after only a month in office at age 65.
Traditionally, voting cardinals have tried to alternate long papacies with shorter ones, though short reigns are not necessarily uneventful. Pope John XXIII, who some argue was the most influential and revolutionary pope of the 20th century, died within five years of his election. In that time, he convened the Second Vatican Council, a gathering that introduced new relations with other faiths, set a course for a renewed commitment to the poor and opened the Catholic Church to greater grass-roots participation.
"Quality sometimes does not depend on quantity of years," said the Rev. John Navone, a professor at the Vatican's Gregorian University in Rome.
An age range of 65 to 75 is often mentioned as ideal -- not so old to be doddering but not so young as to rule for most of the first quarter of the new century. "I've heard arguments on that in both directions," said George, the Chicago cardinal. "Some would say that after a very long papacy it's best to have one a little shorter. Others would say there's a great advantage to youth and energy that we enjoyed with John Paul II."