The Pope's representative in England and Wales will fly to Rome today having drawn up a short list of candidates to succeed the late Derek Worlock as Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool.
Archbishop Luigo Barbarito, the Papal Nuncio in London, has spent the past few weeks canvassing the opinions of hundreds of clergy and lay members of the church, including every bishop in England and Wales.
His visit to Italy is purely for a holiday but the secret short list will follow him to Rome in the diplomatic bag where it will be handed to Pope John Paul II for the final decision to be made within the next three months. The Pope does not have to choose from the list but is likely to be guided by Archbishop Barbarito's suggestions as to who should replace the long-serving and much-loved Archbishop Worlock, who died from cancer in February, aged 76.
In theory, the candidates could include any of the 5,000 ordained Roman Catholic clergy in England and Wales who are aged over 35, and who have been priests for more than five years. In practice the list is thought to consist of a handful of leading bishops.
Father Ian Farrell, secretary to Archbishop Barbarito, said that the selection process was "well advanced".