Cardinal George Pell agrees the idea of him as the next pope is ''fantastic'', but he means fantastic in the traditional sense of fanciful, not the modern sense of terrific, reports The Canberra Times.
As election of the next pope approaches, ''some of the suggestions made will be simply fantastic. Some of them will be made to meet local demand for a candidate that they know,'' Cardinal Pell said in an interview carried on the Sydney Archdiocese website yesterday.
''Will you be staying in Rome or would that be fantastic?'' the Archdiocese's head of communications, Katrina Lee, asked.
''Of course I will be coming home'' he said, laughing.
Catholic theologian Paul Collins said he did not think Cardinal Pell had any chance of being elected. Rather, his main role in the convocation of cardinals who elect the pope would probably be in forming a voting bloc.
''He will be an important influence in getting a group of cardinals together, probably on the conservative side of the ledger,'' Dr Collins said.
''Australia is just too far away from anything of major significance for the church'' for Cardinal Pell to be a contender, said Neil Ormerod, professor of theology at the Australian Catholic University.
He said the cardinals will be looking for someone to tackle the big issues for the next two decades in Catholicism, including the ''role of sexuality in human flourishing'', the handling of sex abuse within the church, and the church's challenges in the developing world, including the relationship between Christianity and Islam in Africa, the growing Pentecostal presence in Latin America and interfaith dialogue in Asia.
The Daily Telegraph reports that while Cardinal Pell is considered a $41 outsider, observers said yesterday he was "not without a chance" to replace the 85-year-old Pontiff, reports the Perth Now website.
"If it were to happen it would be an extraordinary tribute to the church in Australia," commentator Professor Des Cahill said yesterday.
World Youth Day 2008 ambassador Ron Delezio reflected the mood of many grass-roots Catholics when he said it would be a great day for Australia if Cardinal Pell became pope: "The good thing about George is that he is a fit man and he stays on the line of the Catholic church.
Ninemsn reports that Cardinal Pell, says there is a "continuing misconception" about what Pope Benedict XVI did to address child abuse in the Catholic church.
"First of all, the overwhelming responsibility for meeting this crisis, this abuse, rests with the local hierarchy, the local bishops and the local religious superiors, he said in an online interview with the communications director of the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Cardinal Pell laughs off suggestions about being next in line (Canberra Times)
Cardinal rule is don't bet against George Pell (Perth Now)
Pope's critics on child abuse wrong: Pell (Ninemsn)
Video interview with Cardinal Pell (Sydney Catholic)