VATICAN CITY—With Pope John Paul II's health in decline, there is speculation as to who will succeed him as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga announced Monday that he is more than ready to accept the challenges of the papacy.
"When the Sacred College of Cardinals names me pope, I'm gonna shake things up," Maradiaga said. "And I'm not just talking about giving the Popemobile a new coat of paint. I'm talking about big moves that will reconfirm the Catholic Church's position as the supreme, full, and immediate power in the sectarian world, may God grant us peace."
Maradiaga, a charismatic cardinal from Honduras, said he is "not afraid to goose the stodgy rituals" of the Catholic Church.
"First thing, let's get the online theological tour done," Maradiaga said. "We were slated to have Phase II complete in December 2003, but click on 'altar' or 'cross' and you still get nothing. Let's get our Sunday Mass and special liturgical celebrations online, too. As pope, I want to touch as many people as I can, and streaming video is just the ticket for that."
Maradiaga said he would like to upgrade the pope's public image by reviving the more formal title, The Supreme Pontiff.
"I'd like to re-establish that sense of respect for the high seat at the Holy See," Maradiaga said. "We need to emphasize that I—assuming the inevitable happens—am in charge of the spiritual lives of more than one billion Catholics worldwide. It's mainly a public-relations thing—no big deal, God willing."
Maradiaga said he is also planning to farm out some of the "less Pope-y duties" after his election, to free up some of his time.
"Does the Pope really need to be the bishop of Rome?" Maradiaga said. "I'll have enough on my plate already, so I'm pretty sure I'll have one of the other cardinals take care of that. Also, I have some great changes I want to make to the Sacrosanctum Concilium of 1963. Nothing in the body or the message—just some gentle massaging to bring some of the wording up to date."
Many Vatican insiders have said that Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan is more likely to be named Pope John Paul II's successor, but Maradiaga said he is confident there will be an upset.
"The Church already had 450 years of Italian popes," Maradiaga said. "After 27 refreshing years with a Polish pope, do you really think people are going to want to go back to Italian popes again? Just because the Vatican is in Italy, that doesn't mean the pope's got to be Italian. With so many Catholics in South America, the times call for a Latin man of God to don the miter. And that Latin man of God is going to be me, may He strengthen my faith with proofs."
Continued Maradiaga: "I'm not saying Tettamanzi's not a good cardinal, but if you spent a couple minutes in the same room with him and me, I think you'd have a pretty good idea which one of us is better suited to be the Vicar of Jesus Christ and Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church."
Maradiaga said he would not change the things that people love most about the pope.
"The robes, the hat, the staff—all that benevolent-father stuff is going to stay," Maradiaga said. "Hey, I'm not crazy. Also, the day-to-day operations of local churches will continue apace. So don't worry, Catholics. I've got your back."
Rumors have spread that, should he be installed as pope, Maradiaga will effect a number of immediate changes, moving the Vatican from Rome to Barcelona, modernizing the doctrine of apostolic succession, and streamlining the stations of the cross from 14 to 10.
"I don't want to comment on any of that," Maradiaga said. "Those ideas came out of a brainstorming session and were all merely speculative. I will say, though, that if Vatican City is looking for some fresh, new ideas, I've got plenty."
Even though Maradiaga has supporters, some say that his swagger is not what Catholics are looking for in God's representative on earth. Maradiaga shrugged off such criticisms.
"I know what I want and I'm not afraid to go for it, may He direct my steps to Himself," Maradiaga said. "It's like Pope Pius IX used to say: 'It's not the sin of pride if it's true.'"